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International tribunal acquits former Kosovo PM in war crimes retrial

From Alexander Felton, CNN
updated 1:43 PM EST, Thu November 29, 2012
Kosovo Albanians show support for former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj at a gathering in Pristina on January 12.
Kosovo Albanians show support for former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj at a gathering in Pristina on January 12.
  • NEW: Amnesty International: "Is anybody ever going to be brought to justice?"
  • Ramush Haradinaj was indicted on charges of abusing and killing detainees
  • A trial court acquitted Haradinaj and two others in 2008
  • Prosecutors appealed, and the appeals chamber reinstated six counts against the three men

(CNN) -- For the second time, an international tribunal has acquitted a former Kosovo prime minister and two others of abusing and killing Serbs, raising fears that the Thursday ruling could further strain tense relations between the two countries.

The judges ruled there was no evidence that Ramush Haradinaj, who was a commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army before becoming prime minister, and two other former commanders murdered, tortured and unlawfully detained Serbian civilians, according to the summary judgment.

It was the second recent high-profile acquittal on appeal by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Two former Croatian generals were cleared of war crimes on November 16.

In a statement after the verdict, Amnesty International urged authorities to hold accountable those responsible for abducting and murdering members of minority communities in Kosovo.

"Today's verdict raises the question of if, as the court has established today, the three former high-ranking KLA members are not guilty, who then committed those crimes?" John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia program, said in the statement.

"Is anybody ever going to be brought to justice? These are the questions that the victims and their families ask, and will continue to ask, until they see justice," he said.

The indictment alleged that Haradinaj, and former Kosovo Liberation Army commanders Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj, were part of a joint criminal enterprise to consolidate control over the Dukagjin area of western Kosovo through the unlawful removal and mistreatment of civilians.

The charges against the former prime minister stemmed from 1998, when he was a commander in the army and Kosovo was fighting for independence from Serbia. Kosovo declared its independence in 2008, but Serbia has refused to recognize the move.

The three men were initially indicted in March 2005. Haradinaj was originally charged with 37 counts, but the trial court decided in April 2008 there was insufficient evidence to back up the charges and acquitted him, along with Balaj and Brahimaj.

Prosecutors appealed, and the appeals chamber reinstated six counts against all three men, including murder, torture, cruel treatment and unlawful detention.

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