Kosovo Serb leader jailed for war crimes wins retrial



An appeals court in Pristina has ordered a retrial for a top Kosovo Serb politician, quashing his nine-year jail sentence for war crimes against ethnic Albanians in late 1990s, his lawyer said Thursday.

An international tribunal last year found Oliver Ivanovic guilty of encouraging the killings of captured civilians in the northern city of Kosovska Mitrovica in April 1999.

Ivanovic, now 63, was convicted of telling Serb paramilitaries at a checkpoint to "ask nothing and carry out orders" -- after which four of the prisoners were killed.

On Thursday, Ivanovic's lawyer Nebojsa Vlajic told AFP: "We have received a written ruling by the appeals court in Pristina ordering the retrial."

The appeals tribunal could not "confirm with certainty that Ivanovic knew about, organised or ordered... the war crime," Vlajic said.

Ivanovic, who has maintained his innocence, has held hunger strikes in protest.

He has been in jail since his arrest in January 2014, and Vlajic said he would seek his client's release on Monday pending the retrial.

The court has repeatedly rejected requests for Ivanovic's release.

A former Serbian state secretary for Kosovo, Ivanovic was a key interlocutor with NATO, the United Nations and later the European Union after the war and was seen as backing dialogue with Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.

He leads a Serb political party in northern Kosovo, where he lived before his arrest.

Contacted by AFP, the appeals tribunal said it could not comment before all the parties in the proceedings are officially informed of the ruling.

But the appeals court confirmed Ivanovic's acquittal for other alleged war crimes in 2000, Vlajic said.

The 1998-99 war between Serbian security forces and Kosovo Albanian guerrillas was ended by a NATO air campaign. The conflict killed 13,500 people, most of them ethnic Albanians.

Predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Belgrade still refuses to recognise the move by its former southern province.

Ivanovic, considered a political moderate, became the first senior Kosovo Serb official to be charged and tried by the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) for war crimes against ethnic Albanians.

Belgrade decried the verdict as "scandalous" and "politically motivated".

EULEX, the EU's police and justice mission in the region, is authorised to take on cases that the local judiciary and police are unable to handle because of their sensitive nature.

About 120,000 of Kosovo's 1.8 million inhabitants are ethnic Serbs.