EU judges jail 11 ex-Kosovo Albanian guerrillas for war crimes

By Fatos Bytyci

By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA (Reuters) - European Union judges in Kosovo sentenced 11 former Kosovo Albanian guerrillas, two of them close to ex-prime minister Hashim Thaci, to prison terms on Wednesday for war crimes committed during Kosovo's 1998-99 pro-independence uprising.

In two parallel trials, judges from the EU police and justice mission said atrocities were committed against Kosovar civilians held in a camp run by the then-Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which fought Serbian security forces in the war.

Political killings of Kosovo Albanians by their own kin were common in the former Serbian province during and after the war,

sometimes over allegations of collaboration with Belgrade.

The EU mission, established after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, handles sensitive war crimes cases in a country where ex-guerrillas are revered as heroes of the struggle for statehood.

The charges in the two trials also related to the killing in 1998 of a Serbian police officer and a Kosovo Albanian civilian accused by the KLA of being a spy for Serbia.

Sami Lushtaku, a former senior KLA commander, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Sylejman Selimi, currently Kosovo's ambassador to neighboring Albania, was sentenced to eight years for mistreating civilians. He once headed the Kosovo Security Force, a lightly-armed 2,500-strong civil protection and crisis response force trained by NATO.

Lushtaku and Selimi were close allies of former Prime Minister Thaci, the former KLA commander in chief who is now Kosovo's foreign minister.

A member of parliament from the ruling Kosovo Democratic Party (PDK) was sentenced to three years in prison while the jail terms for eight others ranged from three to seven years.

The verdict may complicate a parliamentary vote due on Friday on creating a new Kosovo war crimes court to try ethnic Albanians accused of committing atrocities in the 1998-99 war.

The 11 defendants were war comrades and associates of some current lawmakers and their jailing could make them reluctant to approve the war crimes court legislation, analysts said.

A two-thirds majority is needed to set up the new court and if this fails to transpire, the United Nations is expected to take over pending cases and possibly create a new tribunal.

Some 10,000 and 12,000 people, mainly ethnic Albanians, were killed in the late 1990s conflict between the KLA and security forces loyal to then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Another 800,000 were displaced in the conflict, which ended after a NATO bombing campaign ousted Milosevic's forces from the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority region.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and)