Monday, June 06, 2005

Retrial opens of Serb paramilitary accused of killing ethnic Albanian civilians

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) - The retrial of a Serb paramilitary fighter accused of killing ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo reopened Monday.

Sasa Cvjetan, from the notorious Scorpions unit, was last year convicted of war crimes and sentenced to 20 years in prison. But the ruling was later overturned by the Supreme Court for alleged procedural violations in his trial.

Cvjetan is alleged to have taken part in the killing of 14 ethnic Albanian civilians when his unit stormed the northern Kosovo town of Podujevo in March 1999. His second trial was being held at the Belgrade District Court. He has denied the charges.

Cvjetan's case was back in public focus in Serbia last week, following the airing of a gruesome video showing an execution of Muslim civilians in Bosnia in 1995, a crime allegedly committed by Cvjetan's unit but for which he has not been charged. Several other Scorpions were arrested after the broadcast.

The footage, shown at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, and on local TV stations here, has forced Serb politicians to acknowledge the atrocities committed by the Serb troops during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The retrial of Sasa Cvjetan could shed further light on the role of the Scorpions in alleged war crimes committed in Kosovo during the province's 1998-99 war.

Thousands of ethnic Albanian civilians were killed during the conflict. NATO bombing forced Serbia to relinquish control over Kosovo to the United Nations and NATO in mid-1999.

Dragoljub Todorovic, a lawyer representing the victims' families said the trial also laid bare the link of the Scorpions unit to the leadership of Serbia's police at the time.

"They themselves said they had been an elite unit," Todorovic said.

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