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Serbia court upholds sentences of 3 militants in 1999 Kosovo deaths

A Serbian appeals court on Tuesday upheld the conviction and sentences of three members of Serbia's "Scorpion" paramilitary group for the death of 14 civilians in March 1999 during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The court demanded a retrial for a fourth member of the paramilitary unit [AP report], holding that his conviction had been unlawfully based on testimony by a protected witness. The men were originally convicted [JURIST report] in June 2009 by the War Crimes Chamber of the Belgrade District Court [official website, in Serbian]. According to testimony from the trial, the Scorpions lined up 19 people, mostly women and children, and sprayed them with machine gun fire in Kosovo's northern town of Podujevo. The violence was halted by the arrival of Serbian troops, who were able to save five of the wounded children. Zeljko Djukic, Dragan Medic and Dragan Borojevic were sentenced to 20 years in prison, and Miodrag Solaj was sentenced to 15 years because he was younger than 18. The surviving children testified at the ex-Scorpions' trial.

Several nations and international organizations have been working together to apprehend those responsible for the atrocities that occurred during the Kosovo war. Last month, EU police officers arrested a suspected war criminal in Kosovo [JURIST report]. Sabit Geci is accused of being a former member of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive], which allegedly tortured prisoners at an Albanian prison during the war. The EU has stationed thousands of officials in Kosovo to conduct war crimes investigations and protect the justice system. In April, Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg [official profile] criticized an agreement [JURIST report] reached between Germany and Kosovo that would return to Kosovo thousands of refugees who fled to Germany during the Kosovo war. Hammarberg worried that Kosovo does not yet have the infrastructure to care for the returning refugees or to protect them from ethnically motivated violence. Also last month, Swedish police arrested a Serbian man [JURIST report] suspected of committing war crimes in the Kosovo village of Cuska during the war. In March, a spokesperson for Serbia's Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor [official website] announced the arrest of nine individuals [JURIST report] suspected of being members of the Serbian paramilitary group Sakali and accused of the systematic murders of 41 ethnic Albanians in May 1999.

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