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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 18:54 GMT
Kosovo suspects taken to The Hague
Suspect Haradin Balaj's family after the raid
Masked soldiers allegedly broke into a suspects' house
The first Kosovo Albanians to be arrested by Nato troops on the authority of the international war crimes tribunal have been transferred to The Hague.

Three men were arrested by K-For peacekeepers in a bloodless operation on Monday.

Carla del Ponte
It escapes all understanding that Fatmir Limaj... could be allowed to leave Kosovo with such ease

Carla Del Ponte
chief UN war crimes prosecutor
But the chief UN war crimes prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, sharply attacked Nato for letting a fourth, and more important, suspect slip through their fingers in the UN-administered province.

The suspects, all members of the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrilla group, are accused of torturing and killing Serb and Albanian prisoners in the late 1990s.

Their leader, Fatmir Limaj, flew out of Kosovo on a business trip on Friday despite an arrest warrant issued against him and the three others three weeks ago.

"He was not on the run, he was not in hiding, he simply booked the flight ticket and like any ordinary citizen he was allowed to board this flight," Carla Del Ponte said in a statement released in Montenegro.

"It was that simple. And it is outrageous."

Hague 'impartial'

Mr Limaj said that he was "willing to surrender voluntarily in The Hague" when he was contacted by a Kosovo TV station on Tuesday.

"I'm convinced that all I've done, I've done for the good of my people, respecting every national and international norm," he said.

Fatmir Limaj
Limaj says he is proud of his KLA activities
The Hague tribunal has been accused in the past of turning a blind eye to war crimes committed by ethnic Albanians in Kosovo during their 1998-99 conflict with Belgrade.

"This should send a message that we will act against any person indicted for war crimes, regardless of their ethnicity," Nato Secretary General Lord Robertson said after the arrests.

Mr Limaj and fellow suspects Haradin Balaj, Isak Musliu and Agim Murtezi are accused of crimes at the KLA's Lapusnik Prison Camp:

  • Led by Mr Limaj, they are accused of routinely beating and torturing at least 35 Serbian or Albanian inmates

  • When the camp was overrun in July 1998, they allegedly evacuated some of the inmates to the mountains where Mr Balaj and Mr Murtezi are accused of shooting 11 of them dead. The fate of two others is unknown

Night raid

The Hague tribunal has confirmed that the three suspects captured in Kosovo are now in Scheveningen prison in The Hague, which houses former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and 41 other war crimes suspects, most of them Serbs.

The family of Haradin Balaj, said peacekeepers had burst into their home in the village of Gornja Koretica, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of Pristina, in the early hours of Monday.

"Armed soldiers, some with face masks, broke into our house and burst into the bedroom where Haradin was sleeping," Mr Balaj's brother, Fatmir, said.

"People in civilian clothes, accompanying soldiers, told us they were from The Hague tribunal."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Matt Prodger
"They are accused of the maltreatment of Serb and ethnic Albanian civilians"

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17 Feb 03 | Europe
11 Aug 02 | Europe
08 Jul 02 | Europe
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