10 November 2006

Yugoslav tribunal asks UN to help exhume alleged victims of former Kosovo prime minister

Associated Press, Thursday, October 19, 2006 12:25 PM

THE HAGUE, Netherlands-The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal Thursday called on U.N. officials in Kosovo to help exhume the bodies of 14 people killed in 1998, in response to a request by defense lawyers for the province's former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj.

Haradinaj, the former commander of the Western-backed Kosovo Liberation Army, was charged in February 2005 with 37 counts of war crimes allegedly committed in 1998, several months before NATO's air campaign forced Serbian troops to withdraw from Kosovo and end a crackdown on ethnic Albanians.

U.N. prosecutors say Haradinaj, who has been released pending the start of his trial, and his KLA deputies executed a criminal plan to persecute, murder, rape and abuse Serbs and Gypsies in the Albanian-dominated province.

In a motion filed this week Haradinaj's attorneys sought help from members of the U.N. Interim Mission in Kosovo to exhume the bodies of people mentioned in his indictment as victims.

Kosovo, formally a province of Serbia, was put under control of U.N. administrators after the NATO campaign of mid-1999.

It was not immediately clear why the defense attorneys want to examine the bodies.

Prosecutors did not object to the request and judges on Thursday called on the U.N. to "provide all necessary assistance" to Haradinaj and two co-accused "in the exhumation and examination of the 14 sets of remains in question."

Two of his former deputies in the Kosovo Liberation Army, Lahi Brahimaj and Idriz Balaj, have pleaded not guilty pleas to 35 charges each.

In June, the Hague-based court's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, criticized the U.N. in Kosovo for not doing enough to assist her investigators, a charge the U.N. rejected.