News 04 Jun 13

Serb Paramilitaries’ Lawyers Slam EU’s Kosovo Mission

Lawyers for 13 Serbian fighters on trial for war crimes in Kosovo accused the EU's rule-of-law mission of flouting legal norms after several Kosovo witnesses refused to testify in Belgrade.

Marija Ristic

Miroslav Djordjevic, a defence lawyer in the war crimes case against the 13 fighters, strongly criticised the EU rule-of-law mission in Kosovo, EULEX, after it presented a report to the Belgrade court saying that only 11 of 18 proposed witnesses from Kosovo would testify, and only via video link.

“The behaviour of EULEX is inappropriate. Their reports are frivolous and undermine  Serbian law and procedures,” Djordjevic said on Monday.

“This trial now more looks like phone trial,” he continued.

The Serbian fighters, members of a paramilitary unit called the Jackals, are charged with killing at least 100 Albanian civilians in villages of Ljubenic, Pavlan, Zahac and Cuska in Kosovo in 1999.

All the witnesses, which were proposed by prosecution, are from the Kosovo villages near the town of Pec/Peja that were allegedly attacked by the Jackals unit in April and May 1999.

Seven of the witnesses refused to testify, arguing that they “do not trust Serbian courts”, while the other 11 only agreed to testify via video link.

“A video link is only envisaged in special situations according to our [Serbian] criminal law. A video link is an exception and not the rule. And EULEX, with this report, made it a rule, offering the witnesses [the opportunity] to choose how will they testify,” said Goran Petronijevic, another defence lawyer in the case.

“If a witness from Serbia refused to testify, he would be arrested,” Petronijevic said.

“One of the basic rules is to have a witness present in the courtroom. And now we are completely outside legal procedures, and for this I blame the prosecution which allowed EULEX to behave like this,” he continued.

Prosecutor Dragoljub Stankovic claimed however that “the majority of the witnesses are old and sick and are unable to travel to Serbia”.

The trial has so far heard from a number of witnesses, survivors of the attacks, and almost all of them testified via video link from Kosovo with the assistance of EULEX.

The Serbian prosecution alleges that Toplica Miladinovic, Srecko Popovic, Slavisa Kastratovic, Boban Bogicevic, Radoslav Brnovic, Vidoje Koricanin, Veljko Koricanin, Abdulah Sokic, Milojko Nikolic, Sinisa Misic, Zoran Obradovic, Dejan Bulatovic and Ranko Momic were responsible for killing more than 100 ethnic Albanians in the villages of Zahac, Pavlan, Ljubenic and Cuska during the conflict in Kosovo.

The aim of the attack, according to the indictment, was to permanently expel the Albanian population from the area.

The trial continues on Tuesday when it is expected that some of the 11 witnesses who agreed to testify will be heard.

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