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Kosovo Albanian brothers sentenced
to 20 years for terrorism

  AFP
  Wednesday April 18, 2001 9:49 PM


For fair use only
Published under the provision of
U.S. Code, Title 17, section 107.


NIS, Yugoslavia, April 18 (AFP) - A Serbian court on Wednesday sentenced two brothers, ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, to 20 years in prison for terrorism charges including mass killings and rape of Serb civilians in Kosovo in 1998.

Luan and Bekim Mazreku were found guilty of belonging to a "terrorist organisation", the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which fought Yugoslav troops during the 1998-99 war in Kosovo, Judge Milimir Lukic ruled.

Lukic also handed down a guilty verdict on charges of kidnapping, torture, rape and mass execution of 43 Serb civilians who were taken from the southern Kosovo town of Orahovac to the village of Klecka in July 1998.

"The facts have shown without a doubt that war crimes were committed in Klecka," Lukic said.

Defense lawyer Cedomir Nikolic said the verdict had been "expected," and announced plans to appeal.

The defendants said through a translator that they had understood the verdict, with Luan Mazreku insisting that everything would be cleared up in The Hague, referring to the Netherlands-based UN war crimes tribunal.

Mazreku has said he would be ready to appear before the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague to defend himself.

Lukic said the court heard from a witness who corroborated the testimony given by Mazreku, who had confessed to being part of a KLA death squad, even though his lawyers later asserted that he made the admission under duress.

"There are no witnesses to the most terrible part of this tragedy -- the mass execution -- and there will be no one, since no one has survived," said the judge.

The Mazreku brothers were arrested in August 1998, a few days after Serbian authorities uncovered a mass grave in Klecka, 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Pristina containing the calcified remains of 22 Serbs allegedly executed by the KLA in July.

The trial opened on April 6, 2000, and was adjourned three times.

The indictment was based on testimony from witnesses and from the brothers who had claimed to be members of a 20-men strong KLA firing squad that executed two children, three women and five men.

In August 1998, Western journalists were escorted by the police to Klecka, with one of the defendants, Bekim Mazreku, showing the location of the execution.

He had claimed the civilians were later burnt and thrown in a shallow grave.

In a brick-walled pit, measuring some two-metres (six-feet) across and several metres deep, two skulls, jawbones, vertebrae and ribs could be identified among the charred human remains.

Other skulls could be seen around the pit near what looked to be an underground prison where bits of barbed wire believed to have been used to tie prisoners' hands lay scattered.

Belgrade officials describe the "Klecka massacre" as one of the worst atrocities committed against Serbs in Kosovo and cite it as a possible case of ethnic Albanians in the province to be taken up by the UN war crimes tribunal.

Defense lawyer Cedomir Nikulic said the public was "prepared for such verdict," noting that the judges and prosecutor were ethnic Serbs who fled Kosovo after Belgrade forces had pulled out from the province in 1999.

The Mazreku brothers were among more than 2,000 ethnic Albanians held in Kosovo prisons who were transferred to Serbian jails after the end of the Kosovo war in June 1999.

Since former president Slobodan Milosevic was ousted last October, Belgrade's new authorities have pledged to re-examine court cases.

On November 1, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica made a symbolic gesture, setting free the most famous of the prisoners, poet and human rights militant Flora Brovina.

Kostunica said recently that 351 of the 787 ethnic Albanians who had been kept in prison had been released.


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