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Last Updated: Monday, 15 November, 2004, 15:48 GMT
Trial of Kosovo Albanians begins
Kosovo Albanian women hold portraits of relatives missing since the 1999 war
The court has so far dealt with abuses against ethnic Albanians
Three Kosovo Albanians accused of committing war crimes during the Kosovo conflict have gone on trial in the International War Crimes tribunal.

The former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army are accused of atrocities against Serb and ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo in 1998.

Fatmir Limaj, Haradin Bala and Isak Musliu deny responsibility for torture and murder in the KLA's Lapushnik camp.

It is the first time that the tribunal has tried Albanians from Kosovo.

Prosecutors accuse the three men of detaining 35 Serb and Albanian civilians in the Lapushnik prison camp.

The indictment says that 14 were murdered before Serb forces took control of the area in eastern Kosovo in 1998 and that the KLA then killed 10 ethnic Albanian detainees accused of collaborating with Serbs.

Inhuman conditions

The charges against Mr Limaj, 33, a commander at the camp, include the murder of 10 Serbs and Albanians.

Former camp guard, Mr Musliu, 57, is accused of participating in the murder of four detainees in July 1998.

Mr Bala is, 54, accused of taking part in the execution of 11 detainees in the same month as Serb forces were in the process of retaking the Lapushnik region.

According to the charge sheet, the three men "contributed to maintaining inhuman conditions in the camp... and participating in acts of torture and physical cruelty inflicted on detainees".

The Hague tribunal is often accused of being biased against Serbs and not bringing more ethnic Albanians to trial.

The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said she would issue a new indictment against KLA leaders before the end of the year.

She criticised the international community and the local authorities in Kosovo for their lack of co-operation with her investigation of alleged crimes committed by the KLA.

Specific crimes

The prosecutor said it was difficult to build indictments against Kosovo Albanians, because witnesses were afraid to testify.

A relative of one of the men on trial recently appeared in court accused of intimidating witnesses in this case.

Tribunal spokesman Jim Landale defended the court's record.

"It's clear from our records that we've had trials involving Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims and now Kosovar Albanians, among others," he said

"What's important, however, is that the tribunal is putting on trial individuals charged with specific crimes - crimes that come within our jurisdiction - and in this particular case, violation of the laws and customs of war and crimes against humanity."

Former KLA members stand accused of war crimes

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