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Kosovo ex-rebel now MP goes on retrial for war crimes


A top ethnic Albanian guerrilla commander turned-politician and his nine associates on Thursday went on retrial for war crimes committed during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war.

Fatmir Limaj pleaded not guilty to the charges of torture and killing of ethnic Serb and Albanian civilians at a detention centre in the central Kosovo village of Klecka.

Limaj, currently a lawmaker from Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), was the commander of the centre.

Nine lower-ranking members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group that fought Serb armed forces during the war, also denied charges brought by Italian prosecutor Maurizio Salustro.

The retrial before the panel chaired by British judge Malcolm Simmons was ordered by the Supreme Court of Kosovo in November when it annulled the verdict of a lower court acquitting Limaj and the nine of the same charges.

The verdict of the first instance court was largely based on the court's decision to throw out the key testimony provided by former guardian in the Klecka detention centre Agim Zogaj, who had witnessed the crimes and registered them in his war diary.

He was found dead in September 2011 in Germany, a month before the initial trial started, in a death ruled a suicide by the German authorities.

However, the Supreme Court's panel ruled that late Zogaj's evidence would be admissible at the retrial.

The case marks the first time a top KLA commander, who fought the forces loyal to then Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, has been tried for war crimes before the local judiciary.

The war, which claimed around 13,000 lives, ended when a NATO-led air campaign halted Milosevic's crackdown on the pro-independence Kosovo Albanians and ousted his forces from the territory in June 1999.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Just months later, Brussels launched a civilian mission EULEX to strengthen the rule of law and assist the local judiciary in tackling the most sensitive cases.