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EU to establish Kosovo war crimes tribunal

PRISTINA, Kosovo — The European Union plans to set up an international tribunal focusing exclusively on crimes allegedly committed by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian rebels during their war with Serbia, the Associated Press has learned.

Plans for an independent tribunal amount to an admission of failure by the West to hold its ethnic Albanian allies accountable for war crimes. The rebels had the backing of NATO during the war — and the West has staunchly supported Kosovo in its efforts to emerge from the conflict as an independent state. But ethnic Albanians have also come under pressure from the international community to reckon with their own war crimes, including alleged organ harvesting.

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Kosovo declared independence in 2008, and it has been recognized by more than 100 nations, but not by Serbia and its ally Russia.

The court was expected to start proceedings by next year, a senior EU official told Associated Press, adding that the rules and reach of the tribunal were still being discussed with Kosovo authorities.

The court is to be symbolically seated in Kosovo, but most key proceedings such as hearing witness testimony would take place in the Netherlands, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has yet to be approved by Kosovo’s assembly.

Prosecutions of ethnic Albanian rebels — both in Kosovo and at the United Nations war crimes tribunal in the Hague, Netherlands — have been marred by intimidation of witnesses and their families. Former rebels are considered by many Kosovars as heroes who fought for freedom from Serbia. Some 10,000 people died in the 1998-1999 war and about 1,700 are considered missing.

The court, which will be set up and paid for by the EU, will consider charges of organ harvesting by the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army rebels as well as the disappearance of some 400 people — most of them Kosovo Serbs — at the end of the war. A two-year investigation led by a US prosecutor, and set to wrap up by mid-June, is to form the basis of any indictments brought before the court. The United States supports the new tribunal.

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