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Ex-rebels face Kosovo war charges

A European Union prosecutor has indicted 15 former ethnic Albanian rebels suspected of torturing, mistreating and murdering civilians detained in central Kosovo during the 1998-99 war against Serbia.

Many of those indicted are members of the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who led the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army in its fight against Serbian troops.

Among those indicted are Sami Lushtaku, now a mayor of the town of Srbica, and Sylejman Selimi, Kosovo's ambassador to Albania, as well as one of Thaci's bodyguards.

Lushtaku is suspected of executing a fellow ethnic Albanian by shooting him in the head, according to the indictment filed by EU prosecutor Maurizio Salustro.

A protected witness told the prosecution that Lushtaku allegedly executed an ethnic Albanian because "the man had killed his cousin."

"Sami Lushtaku put the pistol to the prisoner's head behind his left ear and he shot him," protected Witness D is quoted to have told the prosecution. "He fell to his knees and Sami shot him twice more in the head."

Lushtaku's defence lawyer says the indictment is "baseless and we will object it."

Selimi, a fomer top military rebel commander, faces four charges of war crimes including beating detainees with fists and wooden sticks and being part of a group of rebels that pinched a detainee's "genitals with an iron tool and subsequently dragging him on the floor with it," according to the indictment.

Selimi's lawyer, Tome Gashi, said he had not yet seen the indictment, and could not comment on it.

Salustro also alleged that two other suspects, Sahit Jashari and Sabit Geci allegedly used a chain saw to behead Serbian policeman, Ivano Bulatovic in June 1998. The indictment says Bulatovic was taken off a train by three KLA soldiers in May 1998, according to a statement given by his wife, Mira Bulatovic, to EU justice officials in 2012.

Bulatovic was kept in a detention facility and frequently walked to a village square by Jashari for people to beat him in public, according to the testimony of a witness referred to in the indictment as Witness C.

Sometime in June 1998 Geci "took the chainsaw and beheaded Bulatovic with it. Then Geci made some deep cuts into Bulatovic's chest, thigh and legs," according to the witness testimony.

The EU rule of law mission known as EULEX prosecutes war crimes and organised crime in Kosovo. Although EULEX works alongside Kosovo justice authorities the two have often clashed because the mission has targeted high profile individuals and former rebels some of whom are considered as heroes by majority ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo fought a separatist war against Serbia in 1998-99. In 2008 Kosovo declared independence but Serbia has rejected the move.

Nine of the suspects are in detention and six others are restricted from leaving the country.


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