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EU Kosovo authorities sentence former rebel fighter on war crimes charges

The European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) [official website] on Friday sentenced [ruling, PDF] a former ethnic Albanian rebel fighter to five years in prison for crimes committed against civilians during the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Sali Rexhepi was charged with three counts of war crimes against the civilian population stemming from his membership and activity in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) but was found guilty on only one of those charges. The court, consisting of three judges, found Rexhepi guilty of the second count in which it was alleged that he "tortured Witness N, a Kosovo Albanian citizen detained in the Cahan detention center by attempting to obtain information and confessions from him while repeatedly beating him with wooden sticks." The other counts alleged similar mistreatment of civilians. As a result of the court's decision, Rexhepi was sentenced to five years of imprisonment and will also be required to reimburse the costs of the criminal proceedings.

Earlier this month, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] called for Kosovo to institute an independent witness protection program [JURIST report]. Spokesperson Rupert Colville made the comment in reaction to the recent death of Agim Zogaj [B92 report], a major witness for the prosecution against senior Kosovo politician and parliamentarian Fatmir Limaj. Limaj, a former member of the KLA, is awaiting trial on charges of war crimes stemming from the 1998-99 Kosovo war with Serbia. Zogaj, known as Witness X, was a KLA member under Limaj's direct command during the alleged Klecka massacre [Centre for Peace in the Balkans backgrounder]. Although authorities are still investigating, Zogaj's death has been tentatively ruled a suicide. Since Zogaj's death, at least one witness has decided not to testify [B92 report]. EULEX has not commented on how severely this affects their case against Limaj and nine others, nor if it will delay the trial, which was expected to begin this month.

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