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Kosovo court orders retrial of ex-rebel for war crimes

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Kosovo court orders retrial of ex-rebel for war crimes

Fatmir Limaj

(PRISTINA) - Kosovo's Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a retrial against a top ethnic Albanian guerilla commander-turned-politician, cleared in May of committing war crimes against Serb and Albanian civilians and war prisoners in the 1998-1999 conflict.

The EU-led court ordered a new trial for Fatmir Limaj, a lawmaker and deputy president of prime minister Hashim Thaci's ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), and three other co-defendants acquitted in May by a lower court.

The Supreme Court "annulled the verdict of the first instance court which acquitted" them, the EU rule of law mission in Kosovo (EULEX) said in a statement.

The date for the retrial in the so-called "Klecka case", seen as one of the highest-profile war crimes cases in Kosovo so far, has yet to be set.

The lower court found Limaj and three other former high-ranking members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) not guilty for the 1999 torture and killing of ethnic Serb and Albanian civilians at a detention centre near the southern Kosovo village of Klecka.

The verdict was largely based on the court's decision to throw out key testimony against the four provided by former KLA fighter Agim Zogaj.

Zogaj was found dead last September in Germany, where authorities ruled his death was a suicide.

But the Supreme Court's panel -- consisting of three EU and two local judges -- said the evidence on the murder and torture of one Albanian and seven Serb prisoners at the camp, which was under Limaj's command, would be admissible at the retrial.

The case marks the first time a top KLA commander who fought the forces of then Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic has been tried for war crimes before the local judiciary.

The war, which claimed around 13,000 lives, ended when a NATO-led air campaign ousted Milosevic's forces in June 1999.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Just months later, Brussels launched the EULEX mission to strengthen the rule of law and assist the local judiciary in tackling the most sensitive cases.

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