Five Kosovo ex-guerrillas arrested in war crimes probe

Police on Thursday arrested five ethnic Albanian former guerrillas suspected of war crimes against civilians during the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo, the EU rule of law mission said.

The five were members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the guerrilla group that fought the armed forces of then Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic during the war.

"The five individuals are investigated for war crimes against the civilian population... held in a KLA detention centre," the EU mission known as EULEX said in a statement.

EULEX did not identify the suspects.

But local media quoted a lawyer as saying that among them was Sami Lushtaku, the mayor of the Srbica municipality where the alleged war crimes were committed and a top official in Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's ruling party.

Lushtaku "is not guilty. We believe that this issue will be clarified very quickly," lawyer Arianit Koci said.

The KLA detention centre was located in the village of Likovac village in the Srbica municipality in the northwestern Drenica region, the wartime stronghold of the ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

Last month, a top KLA commander Fatmir Limaj, also an official from Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo, went on trial for war crimes along with nine more lower-ranking KLA members.

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 the civilian mission EULEX to strengthen the rule of law and assist the local judiciary in tackling the most sensitive cases.