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EU court jails 11 ex-Kosovo fighters over war crimes

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EU court jails 11 ex-Kosovo fighters over war crimes

Photo © Yanchenko - Fotolia

(PRISTINA) - A European Union-run court Wednesday sentenced 11 former Kosovo guerrilla fighters, including two high-ranking officers, to up to 12 years behind bars for crimes during the 1990s war for independence.

A high-level member of the now disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) who is mayor of the northwestern town of Srbica, Sami Lushtaku, was found guilty and given 12 years in prison for the wartime murder of a civilian, the European justice mission (EULEX) said in a statement.

The KLA was a pro-independence ethnic Albanian rebel movement that fought the armed forces of then Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

KLA general Sylejman Selimi was handed an eight-year jail term for ill treatment of civilian prisoners in a KLA detention centre in the Drenica region of Kosovo.

Selimi, who was Kosovo's ambassador to Albania in 2013 before being hit with the EULEX charges, engaged in violence, torture as well as humiliating, cruel and degrading treatment of civilian prisoners, according to the verdict.

The other nine defendants, including another mayor of a Kosovo city, were sentenced to prison terms from three to seven years for the torture of civilians at the KLA's detention centre in Drenica, the wartime stronghold of the guerrila group.

The defence lawyers said they would lodge an appeal.

According to the indictment, war crimes were committed in Drenica's KLA detention centre against mainly ethnic Albanian civilians suspected of collaboration with Milosevic's regime.

A war veterans association promptly condemned the ruling as "political" and part of "continuing efforts to criminalise our struggle for liberation."

The Kosovo war ended in June 1999 after NATO bombed Serbia and ousted Milosevic's security forces from Kosovo, paving the way for its unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008.

The EU justice mission was launched in Kosovo just months after the war, in order to assist the local judiciary in handling the most sensitive cases.

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