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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BUDAPEST/BELGRADE (BosNewsLife)– Serbia has condemned a United Nations tribunal in The Hague for acquitting Kosovo’s former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and two of his aids of war crimes against Serbs and other civilians. The ruling, made in a retrial, was welcomed in Kosovo, which broke away from Serbia after a bloody conflict.
Prosecutors claimed Ramush Haradinaj was involved in a joint enterprise that abducted and tortured 16 civilians, and ultimately killed eight of them.
The crimes allegedly happened before Haradinaj became prime minister when he was commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which fought for Kosovo’s independence in the late 1990s.
Prosecutors said the group wanted to establish control in western Kosovo by removing all ethnic Serbs, Roma and other civilians who were deemed traitors.
However the presiding judge of the UN’s Yugoslav war crimes court, Bakone Moloto, cleared him of all charges. “The Chamber finds you not guilty on all counts in the indictment,” Moloto said.
“The Chamber orders that you be released from the United Nations detention unit subject to the completion of the necessary formalities,unless you are detained there pursuant to any other valid order of detention.”
Two of the defendant’s associates, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj, were also cleared of all charges and the judge ordered their immediate release.
The ruling followed the tribunal’s first ever retrial, after an appeals chamber concluded that the first trial was plagued with witness intimidation.
Soon after the verdict was announced celebrations broke out in Kosovo’s capital Pristina.
Crowds set off fireworks and supporters of former Prime Minister Haradinaj celebrated.
A member of Haradinaj’s party said he “congratulates all people of Kosovo with this historic event which is of great significance for all Albanians.”
However there were angry reactions in neighboring Serbia.
In a statement, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said the acquittal of former Prime Minister Haradinaj and his associates if is further proof that the U.N. Tribunal in his words “formed to try the Serbian people”.
The acquittals came shortly after appeals judges of the UN court released two Croatian generals, though they were initially sentenced to long prison terms for war crimes against Serbs.
President Nikolic, a nationalist, warned that the latest verdict would make reconciliation in the region even more difficult and “increases euroscepticism among the Serbian people”.
(BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals in especially, but not limited to, (former) Communist nations and other autocratic states.)