[JURIST] The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) [official website] and the Kosovo Police Special Operations Unit ROSU [EU backgrounder, PDF] arrested five people Thursday on suspicion of war crimes in the 1998-1999 conflict [JURIST news archive]. Although the names of the accused were not released, the lawyer for Sami Lushtaku announced that his client is among those arrested. Lushtaku is the mayor of the town of Skenderaj [OSCE backgrounder, PDF], and is a close ally of Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci [official website]. Both men served as commanders in the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) [BBC backgrounder] during the conflict. Allegedly, Kosovo’s ambassador to Albania is also among those arrested. The five accused parties are charged with “war crimes against the civilian population in the form of violation of bodily integrity and health of civilians held in a KLA detention centre… also for… the killing of one civilian.” The order for the arrest came from a pre-trial judge of the Mitrovica Basic Court [OSCE backgrounder, PDF] and will be prosecuted by the EULEX special prosecutor from the Special Prosecution Office of Kosovo (SPRK) [official website].
These arrests come on the heels of last month’s retrial of KLA leaders [JURIST report], as well as a landmark agreement between Serbia and Kosovo [US State Department backgrounders] regarding membership in the EU [JURIST report]. Tensions have remained high between the two nations since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, partly due to Serbia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo as an independent nation. Last year EU Kosovo officials arrested six Serbian officials [JURIST report] in Kosovo, alleging that they were “suspected of exerting undue pressure … not to recognize Kosovo institutions.” In 2010 Serbia’s parliament passed a resolution [JURIST report] stating that it would never recognize Kosovo as an independent nation. This resolution was passed days after the International Court of Justice [official website] ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law [JURIST report].