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Kosovo Albanian denies war crimes

"Not guilty -- completely," said Limaj when the charges were read out.

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THE HAGUE, The Netherlands -- Kosovo Albanian war crimes suspect and prominent politician Fatmir Limaj has pleaded not guilty at The Hague tribunal to charges of murder and torture in the province in 1998.

Limaj, named in the U.N. tribunal's first indictment against Kosovo Albanian separatists who fought Serb forces in 1998-1999, faced nine counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity when he appeared before the court Wednesday.

An ally of ex-KLA chief Hashim Thaci and parliamentary group leader of Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo, Limaj was transferred to The Hague Tuesday after his arrest in Slovenia last month.

He was charged with three others accused of atrocities against Serb and Albanian civilians in a KLA prison camp in 1998. But one of the men was released last week after prosecutors said they were concerned they had the wrong man.

The indictment said KLA forces under Limaj's command held at least 35 Serb and Albanian civilians in the Lapusnik prison camp "under conditions that were brutal and inhumane, and routinely subjected them to physical and psychological assault, including torture and beatings."

Limaj, 32, shook his head as he listened to the charges read out in court. "Not guilty. Completely," he said as the nine charges were read out.

Many Kosovo Albanians regard former KLA guerrillas as heroes in a war of liberation against the harsh Serb rule of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. But Western officials in Kosovo have made clear they will crack down on any ex-rebels suspected of crimes, despite the risk of protest.

Kosovo came under U.N.-led rule in mid-1999 after 11 weeks of NATO bombing drove out Serb forces.

Milosevic was arrested and handed over to The Hague in mid-2001 on charges of war crimes during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, including Kosovo.

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