A European Union prosecutor on Friday indicted 15 former ethnic Albanian rebels suspected of torturing, mistreating and killing civilians detained in central Kosovo during the 1998-99 war against Serbia.
Many of those indicted are members of the governing Democratic Party of Kosovo of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who had led the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, which fought a separatist war against Serbia.
Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008, and tensions remain high between its ethnic Albanian government and Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority.
The indicted include Sami Lushtaku, now a mayor of the town of Srbica, and Sylejman Selimi, Kosovo’s ambassador to Albania, as well as one of Thaci’s bodyguards.
All 15 are to be tried together at Mitrovica Basic Court in the Kosovo city of Mitrovica in about two weeks.
Nine of the suspects are in detention, and the others are barred from leaving Kosovo, said the EU rule of law mission spokesman, Blerim Krasniqi.
Lushtaku is suspected of executing a fellow ethnic Albanian by shooting him in the head, according to the indictment filed by EU prosecutor Maurizio Salustro, which was obtained by the Associated Press news agency.
A protected witness told the prosecution that Lushtaku allegedly executed an ethnic Albanian because “the man had killed his cousin”.
“Sami Lushtaku put the pistol to the prisoner’s head behind his left ear and he shot him,” protected Witness D is quoted as having told the prosecution. “He fell to his knees and Sami shot him twice more in the head.”
Lushtaku’s defense lawyer, Arianit Koci, called the indictment “baseless” and said he would object to it.
Selimi, a former top military rebel commander, faces four charges of war crimes, including beating detainees with fists and wooden sticks, and being part of a group of rebels that pinched a detainee’s “genitals with an iron tool and subsequently dragged him on the floor with it,” according to the indictment.
Selimi’s lawyer, Tome Gashi, said his client will plead innocent.
“It is impossible for these things to have happened,” Gashi told the AP in a telephone interview. “This was at the time when my client was busy having hundreds of meetings with international officials to end the war with Serbia”.
Salustro also alleged that two other suspects, Sahit Jashari and Sabit Geci, allegedly used a chain saw to behead a Serbian policeman, Ivan Bulatovic, in June 1998.
The EU rule of law mission, known as EULEX, prosecutes war crimes and organized crime in Kosovo.
EULEX works alongside Kosovo justice authorities, but the two have often clashed because the mission has targeted high-profile individuals and former rebels, some of whom are considered heroes by majority ethnic Albanians.