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Ex-Kosovo official cleared of war crimes

Ramush Haradinaj had served six years in jail.

Ramush Haradinaj had served six years in jail.

PARIS — A UN war crimes tribunal Thursday acquitted the former prime minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, for the second time of torturing and killing Serb civilians while he was a commander of the NATO-backed Kosovo Liberation Army during its fight for independence in 1999.

Two of his comrades, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj, were also acquitted, although Brahimaj has already served a six-year sentence for torture handed down in an earlier trial. The judges ordered the three men released immediately.

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Supporters cheered in the courtroom’s public gallery in The Hague.

In Serbia, which is involved in crucial talks with Kosovo, a former Serbian province before the war, the decision was expected to provoke a wave of angry reactions.

President Tomislav Nikolic of Serbia said in a statement, ‘‘Nobody will be convicted of horrible crimes against Kosovo Serbs. Such verdicts encourage separatism, hinder efforts to establish peace in the region, annul efforts to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina thus far.’’

But other officials, including the Serbian prime minister, Ivica Dacic, said that talks with Kosovo would continue.

This month, the tribunal enraged the Belgrade government and many Serbs when an appeals chamber threw out the convictions of two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac. They led a military campaign that recaptured Serb-occupied Croatian land and drove more than 150,000 Serbs from Croatia.

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