Reuters, November 22, 2002
Ex-Kosovo Rebels Accused of War Crimes -Indictment
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (Reuters) - An international prosecutor in Kosovo has charged four former rebels with war crimes against fellow ethnic Albanians in 1998-99, according to a copy of the indictment obtained by Reuters on Thursday.
The prosecutor who issued the indictment, dated November 19, was not immediately available for comment. International officials are part of Kosovo's judicial system to ensure unbiased trials.
It would be the first time former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which battled Serb forces during the Kosovo conflict, have been indicted for war crimes.
The alleged victims were detained by the rebel force because they were suspected of collaborating with Serb authorities, according to a copy in Albanian of the indictment.
Many Kosovo Albanians regard former KLA fighters as heroes in a war of liberation against harsh Serb rule when Slobodan Milosevic ruled Yugoslavia.
One of the accused is well-known former regional commander Rrustem Mustafa -- known as Remi. He was arrested in August. The three others served under him in northeastern Kosovo, two of whom were high-ranking officers.
"The accusations are very serious, unfounded...and even insulting," Remi's lawyer Mexhit Syla told Reuters. He did not confirm that the charges were related to war crimes.
The indictment accused the four of involvement in the kidnapping, illegal detention, beating and torturing of ethnic Albanian civilians. Three of them, including Remi, were accused of ordering and taking part in the killing of some of the victims.
Western officials insist they will crack down on former rebels guilty of crimes, despite the risk of protest.
Thousands of Kosovo Albanians took to the streets in August to protest against the arrest by U.N. police of Remi. The three co-accused were arrested in January.
The indictment said 30 witnesses would appear in court, but it did not make clear when the trial would start. It was also not clear whether the U.N. war crimes tribunal may have a role.
U.N. chief war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte said last month she was having trouble building the first charges against Kosovo Albanians because witnesses were too frightened to testify.
She had earlier said that three former guerrillas were under investigation, responding to months of criticism from Belgrade that only Serbs have been charged for atrocities in Kosovo.
Remi was suspended in 2001 from his post in the Kosovo Protection Corps, a civilian emergency successor force of the KLA, after he appeared on a U.S. blacklist of people suspected of trying to destabilize the Balkans.
Five other ex-guerrillas went on trial earlier this month accused of abducting and beating four fellow ethnic Albanians who subsequently disappeared, presumed murdered.
Kosovo has been under U.N. rule since NATO bombing drove out Serb forces in the summer of 1999 to end their harsh treatment of Albanians under Milosevic, now standing trial in The Hague for war crimes.