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REGIONAL REPORT:

Tribunal inquiries into war crimes in Kosovo could soon lead to indictments against former Albanian rebels.
By Avni Zogiani

Kosovo: KLA Members Face Prosecution


Ongoing Hague investigations into Albanian suspects should yield at least one indictment within the next 12 months, tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte announced last week during a visit to Pristina.


Del Ponte said her office is expected to complete investigations into cases involving the former Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA by the end of 2002.


So far, the Kosovo media has refrained from speculating over the identities of the suspects, but it was suggested they could be from villages where crimes against Serb civilians took place. Serbian lobby groups most frequently mention the killings in Klecka near Suva Reka and at Lake Radonic close to Decani.


The numbers of Serbs murdered or disappeared during the 1999 conflict are disputed. Belgrade claims more than 1,000 are missing. Kosovo's Council for Human Rights and Freedoms puts the figure at around 400.


According to a Human Rights Watch, many disappearances and killings occurred after the conflict, raising doubts over whether the international court has the jurisdiction to investigate such crimes.


International prosecutors and investigators working for the Kosovo courts arrested three former KLA members in March on war crimes charges, but significantly none of these were for crimes against Serbs.


The Kosovo media, meanwhile, has not investigated or reported on alleged war crimes against the minority community.


Arresting more former KLA members could be complicated. After all, the rebel group, through negotiation with the international community, was transformed into the civilian Kosovo Protection Corps, KPC. The organisation is managed by international officials and it could be that the possible suspects are members. Many former KLA operatives also make up the UN's power-sharing administration.


Indictments against one-time rebels are predictably unpopular in Kosovo. KLA veterans are generally revered among Albanians as freedom fighters against Serbian oppression. Mass protests followed the detentions of the three KLA members in March, with demonstrators even attacking the international police.


Some newspapers, like Epoka e Re, have suggested that the delay in issuing indictments against local Albanians for crimes against Serbs stems at least in part from the international community, which, it has been suggested, wants to allow time for the UN administration to consolidate itself before taking such provocative action.


Del Ponte, meanwhile, has long complained that a lot of tribunal work on KLA suspects has been frustrated by Serbia's refusal to allow tribunal investigators to operate in the republic. This has prevented them from interviewing many Serb victims and witnesses.


Albanians want the focus of war crimes investigations to remain firmly on the activities of Serbian forces. So far, Kosovo courts, presided over by international judges and prosecutors, have tried around 20 Serbs for war crimes in the province.


Del Ponte's announcement came as a surprise to many Albanians who believed that Hague investigations into the KLA would not lead to indictments.


There is some speculation in the media and local human rights groups that the ongoing inquiries concern the leadership of the former guerrilla group. But some here suggest that it would be hard to prosecute them as the rebels did not have a clear vertical chain of command.


Dardan Gashi, former spokesman at the tribunal's office in Pristina, said, "It is known that the local commanders did not always get their orders from the top."


Nonetheless, Kosovo's recently appointed premier and ex-KLA member, Bajram Rexhepi, promised Del Ponte that his cabinet would fully cooperate with The Hague during the specified investigations. "If someone committed a crime, he has to be punished," he said.


Avni Zogiani is a journalist with the Kosovan daily Koha Ditore.


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