Kosovo premier expresses full confidence in innocence of convicted UCK members

Published on August 16, 2006, BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom and AP

Category: Meet the Muslim Albanian Leaders

Text of report in English by independent internet news agency KosovaLive

Prishtina [Pristina], 11 August: Kosova [Kosovo] Prime Minister Agim Ceku has welcomed the decision of the District Court in Gjilan to Gen Selim Krasniqi and other Kosova Liberation Army [UCK] members to be defended in freedom.

Ceku voiced full confidence in the innocence of the former UCK and later on Kosova Protection Corps [TMK] members.

"This is a good thing for Kosova and I never stopped believing in their innocence," said Ceku.

On the other hand, the UCK war associations evaluate this trial a politically motivated and directed by Belgrade.

"All this political war, conducted against the values of our people, has only one purpose: the denial of values," reads a statement released by the UCK war associations.

UCK associations also called for the immediate release of all former UCK fighters which are being held in UNMIK [UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] prisons.

Ethnic Albanians Convicted of War Crimes

An ethnic Albanian rebel commander and two of his wartime associates were convicted Thursday of war crimes against fellow ethnic Albanians during Kosovo's war.

A panel of international judges convicted and sentenced Selim Krasniqi and two other former rebel fighters to seven years in prison for detaining and beating fellow ethnic Albanians who allegedly collaborated with Serb authorities, the U.N.-run justice department said.

The crimes were committed between June and July 1998, when former rebels organized and ran a detention center in the basement of a school building in the central Kosovo village of Drenovac.

One defendant in the case was acquitted, charges against two others were dropped and one suspect was not apprehended.

The 11-month trial was adjourned several times and a witness in the case was shot to death in a market in central Kosovo.

The case was handled by U.N.-appointed international judges and prosecutors who deal with sensitive cases in the province. Most of the prosecution witnesses had their identities withheld for fear of retribution.

Krasniqi, the most senior former fighter in the group, was arrested in 2004 by U.N. special police units and NATO-led peacekeepers. At the time, he was serving as regional commander of the Kosovo Protection Corps, a civil emergency unit created after the disbanding of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army.

Since Kosovo came under U.N. administration in 1999, local courts have tried several former ethnic Albanian rebels for war crimes allegedly committed against Serbs and fellow ethnic Albanians suspected of collaborating with the Serb regime.

The war in 1998-99 pitted ethnic Albanian rebels against Serb forces loyal to the former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. It ended in mid-1999 after NATO air strikes forced the Serb military to pull out of Kosovo, leaving United Nations and NATO in control.

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