Former Kosovan leader cleared of war crimes

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The Independent Online

Ramush Haradinaj, a former prime minister of Kosovo and senior militia commander, was found not guilty of murder and torture yesterday by the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Idriz Balaj, a Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) aide, was also acquitted, but a third KLA commander, Lahi Brahimaj, was sentenced to six years in prison for the torture of two protected witnesses identified only as "Witness 3" and "Witness 6" by the presiding judge, Alphons Orie. He said the trial had faced "significant difficulties" since it began in March 2007 in persuading witnesses to testify on behalf of the prosecution.

The three were accused of 37 atrocities, including the killing of at least 40 mostly Serb civilians, and the torture and eviction of Serbs, Roma and ethnic Albanians in a KLA campaign in north-western Kosovo from March to September 1998. "Only seven of these murders can be proven, beyond reasonable doubt, to be the work of the KLA," Judge Orie said. The evidence for other murders and the link between the KLA and its commanders was "vague, inconclusive".

Mr Haradinaj was the region's KLA commander, while Mr Balaj led a special unit called the Black Eagles. Brahimaj ran a KLA detention centre at Jablanica.