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Monday, 17 February, 2003, 13:27 GMT
Kosovo guerrilla leader on trial
KLA troops
Remi was a commander on Kosovo's northern border
The first war crimes trial in Kosovo has opened amid tight security in the capital, Pristina.

Four former ethnic Albanian guerrillas are accused of maltreating other Albanians suspected of collaborating with Serb officials during the 1998-99 conflict.

The four include Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander Rustem Mustafa - also known as Remi.

It is going to be a long and very difficult trial process during which we'll try to show that my client is innocent

Aziz Rexha
Defence lawyer
Correspondents say the trial is one of the most sensitive to date in the United Nations-governed province, with many Kosovans regarding former KLA fighters as heroes in a war of liberation against the Serbs.

Several protests have been staged since UN police arrested Remi in August.

However, Western officials insist they will act against former rebels suspected of crimes, despite the risk that it will spark local anger.

Fifty witnesses are due to appear during the trial, which is expected to last for at least two months.

'Long trial'

Special UN police wearing body armour and carrying automatic rifles guarded the building.

Remi, along with his subordinates Latif Gashi, Nazif Mehmeti and Naim Kadriu, is charged with kidnapping, beating and torturing ethnic Albanian civilians.

Remi and two of the others are also accused of ordering and participating in the killing of some suspected collaborators.

"It is going to be a long and very difficult trial process during which we'll try to show that my client is innocent," lawyer Aziz Rexha told Reuters news agency.

'Threat to peace'

Remi was a local commander in charge of Kosovo's northern border, known as Llap region.

After the war he joined the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), created to deal with civilian emergencies after Nato troops took over the province.

But last year he was dismissed from the KPC after the US included him on a list of 22 ethnic Albanians believed to be a threat to peace in the Balkans.

Five former KLA members were given prison sentences in December for abducting and beating four fellow Albanians who are missing presumed murdered, though they were not accused of war crimes.

Former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic is on trial in The Hague for alleged war crimes committed in Kosovo and elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia.


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11 Aug 02 | Europe
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