Kosovo Serbs on trial over UN policeman's killing

Six Kosovo Serbs went on trial before a European mission court Tuesday over their role in 2008 violence that left a UN policeman dead and dozens injured.

The six pleaded not guilty to charges related to three days of rioting that erupted in the northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica in March 2008, a month after Kosovo unilaterally proclaimed independence from Serbia.

A Ukrainian police officer from the UN force was killed and 64 policemen were wounded.

The six, the first to go on trial for the violence, are charged with bursting into a local court in a majority-Serb part of the town, being part of a group that committed violence and threatening staff of the United Nations and other international missions.

The protests were sparked by a UN police operation aimed at removing Serb protestors from the court where they were demanding it remain under Serbian jurisdiction.

"It will be a difficult process, but I'm an optimist regarding its impartial character," a lawyer for one of the six accused, Ljubomir Pantovic, told AFP.

If found guilty, they face up to five years in jail.

Twenty-four NATO-led peacekeepers and some 100 Serbs were also injured in the rioting.

Kosovo's proclamation of independence is still not recognised by Serbia or by the 120,000-strong Serb minority in the breakaway territory.

However, it is recognised by more than 90 countries, including most of the European Union's 27 member states and the United States.