Serbia's Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out a 20-year prison sentence and ordered a retrial for a Serb police officer found guilty by a lower court of executing 14 ethnic Albanian civilians during the 1999 Kosovo war, lawyers said.
The case was returned to the same Belgrade court that found Sasa Cvjetan guilty in March of the massacre of civilians in Podujevo, said his defense lawyer, Djordje Kalanj.
Defense lawyers had appealed Cvetjan's landmark conviction, saying his rights had been violated during the investigation when he was interrogated without his lawyers' presence.
Sonja Prostran, a spokeswoman for the Belgrade war crimes court, confirmed to B-92 radio that Cvjetan's conviction was overturned and the case ordered for retrial.
Prosecutors could not be reached after office hours Wednesday to comment on the Supreme Court's decision.
Cvjetan was a member of Serbia's notorious Scorpions "anti-terrorist" police unit, which stormed Podujevo during NATO's 1999 air war. He pleaded innocent to charges he shot a group of ethnic Albanian women, children and elderly people in Podujevo in March 1999, killing 14 and wounding five.
His was the first war crimes case to go before a civilian court in Serbia, which is still struggling to come to terms with atrocities committed by Serb troops in Kosovo.
Kalanj said he did not expect the retrial to start before March. It was unlikely that all witnesses who had testified in the original trial would appear again, "only those asked by the court," Kalanj said.
The high point of the trial had been harrowing testimonies from ethnic Albanian children who had survived the Podujevo massacre.
War crimes trials here became possible only after former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's ouster in 2000 and his subsequent extradition by pro-democracy leaders to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. He is now on trial there for his role in the 1990s Balkan wars, including Kosovo.
In 2002, four former Serb soldiers were convicted and sentenced by a military court in Serbia for war crimes in Kosovo, receiving from three to seven years in jail.
Seventeen Serb paramilitary soldiers are currently standing trial before a special war crimes court in Belgrade for alleged war crimes committed in Croatia in 1992.
NATO launched the 1999 air war to halt Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. An estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed during the fighting.
Kosovo has since been run by a U.N. mission and international peacekeepers.