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GNJILANE, Serbia-Montenegro, April 7 (AFP) -
A UN court in Kosovo has sentenced twelve ethnic Albanians to up to 30 years imprisonment for a revenge murder of five-member family in 2001 in one of the biggest trials in the province since the end of 1998-99 war.
After 115 sessions and interrogation of some 50 witnesses during a 17-month long trial, a three-member UN panel in the district court in the eastern town Gnjilane sentenced the group to a total of 185 years imprisonment for the murder of ethnic Albanian Hamez Hajra, his wife and their three children.
Skender Hallimi, a mastermind behind the murder and three main suspects -- Burim Ramadani, Arben Kicina, Asim Ramadani -- were sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.
The others -- among them a woman who has still been at large -- were sentenced from four to 21 years in prison. The defendents could appeal to the Kosovo Supreme court in 15 days.
The murder, believed to be a revenge against the victim -- allegedly considered as a collaborator with the Serb regime of former strongman Slobodan Milosevic -- shocked the province in 2001.
The non-governmental group, the Humanitarian Law Center -- which monitors the trials in Kosovo -- has said it had evidence that Hajra had been supposed to testify in an unidentified war crimes case a day after he and his family were murdered brutally. However, this was not officially confirmed.
The family was killed when their car was sprayed with bullets in August 2001 in central Kosovo. All the victims died of gunshot wounds, and the only one to survive the attack was daughter Pranvera Hajra, who "pretended she was dead, shielded by the bodies of her mother and sisters," the indictement said.
Ever since the murder, Pranvera Hajra has been living abroad under a new identity, but she has testified as a key witness at the trial via video link, identifying all the attackers.
The southern Serbian province of Kosovo has been a UN protectorate since NATO bombed the then Yugoslavia in 1999 to end a brutal crackdown on the ethnic Albanian majority by forces loyal to Milosevic.