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UN court clears ex-Kosovo PM

Ramush Haradinaj acquitted for the secondtime of murdering and torturing Serbs and theirsupporters in Kosovo’s war for independence

A UN war crimes tribunal in The Netherlands has acquitted the former Prime Minister of Kosovo and two of his former Kosovo Liberation Army comrades for the second time on charges of murdering and torturing Serbs and their supporters in Kosovo’s war for independence.

Today’s verdicts came in The Hague court’s first ever retrial, which was ordered after appeal judges branded the 2008 acquittal of former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and KLA fighter Idriz Balaj and the conviction of a third KLA commander, Lahi Brahimaj, a “miscarriage of justice” because of widespread intimidation ofprosecution witnesses.

The acquittal clears the way for a possible return to the political scene for Haradinaj, seen before his 2005 indictment as a unifying force in deeply divided Kosovo.

Applause rang around the courtroom’s public gallery, packed with supporters of the three defendants, when Presiding Judge Bakone Moloto delivered the verdicts.

The three men were expected to be released later yesterday and flown home to Kosovo.

Judge Moloto said Serbs and their suspected supporters were beaten at a KLA compound in Kosovo and at least one of them died of his injuries.

However, he said there was no evidence that Haradinaj was involved in the attacks or was part of a criminal conspiracy to mistreat civilians as a way of consolidating KLA control over part of Kosovo.

In fact, the judge said, Haradinaj reprimanded one KLA fighter for abusing a Kosovo Albanian man, telling the fighter: “No such thing should happen anymore because this is damaging our cause.”

Another witness told the court Haradinaj gave him food and accommodation before releasing him to his family.

Haradinaj quit as Kosovo’s Prime Minister in 2005 after just 100 days in office when his indictment was announced by the tribunal, but he remains popular at home.

In Kosovo, large posters welcoming him back were put up well before the decision was announced in The Hague.

Speculation was rife that Haradinaj would join the country’s ruling coalition of former fellow fighter but current political rival, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, as he looks to broaden the range of participants and share public responsibility in crucial talks with Serbia. (AP)

Former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander Lahi Brahimaj entering the court room of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, The Netherlands. Photo: PA

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