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BBC: Concern over trial of Kosovo Serbs
April 28, 2000

Serbs are exposed to terror in Kosovo prisons
Serbs are exposed to terror in Kosovo prisons
By Nicholas Wood

Gnjilane, April 25, 2000 (BBC) - The trial of three Serbs accused of killing an ethnic Albanian has opened in the Kosovo town of Gnjilane, amid concerns about their chances of a fair hearing.

The human-rights group Amnesty International says evidence, which it believes could clear the defendants, has been omitted from the trial.

The case has also highlighted fears of growing ethnic bias in Kosovo's judicial system, which is dominated by ethnic Albanians.

It is the first trial of Serbs by Kosovo's courts and is being heard by a five-man team of Albanian judges and laymen.

Miroljub, Boban and Jugoslav Momcilovic, a father and his two sons, are accused of killing a former member of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and attempting to kill another Kosovo Albanian last July.

The two victims were seen along with two other men approaching a garage run by the Momcilovic family.

According to the trial prosecutor, a gunbattle then broke out in which two Albanians were killed and another injured.

The Momcilovices have testified that a group of men approached their house, producing guns and asking them to come out.

When they refused, a gunbattle ensued in which Nato peace implementation troops also intervened.

The incident ended with two of their alleged attackers dead and another injured.

Much of the incident was captured on the garage's security camera, but the prosecutors refused to accept the video as evidence.

Both Amnesty and UN human rights observers believe the tape exonerates the Momcilovic family of blame.

They also say there is no forensic evidence linking them with the killing.

A key part of the case is US troop involvement in the gunbattle.

The court has already accepted that one of the four Albanians was lawfully shot dead by a US soldier - a member of the Nato peacekeeping force in Kosovo - as he attempted to fire in their direction.

One of the Albanian survivors has since been charged with attempting to kill the troops.

The accused were arrested immediately after the shooting and have remained in jail ever since.

The two surviving Kosovo Albanians were arrested but are now free.

They are due to testify for the prosecution at the next court hearing.

The case has aroused huge local interest since the man allegedly killed by the three members of the Momcilovic family was a known KLA war hero, Afrim Gagica.

UN court observers say there is clear evidence that Serbs are being treated more severely than Albanians.

Moreover, Albanians accused of crimes against Serbs are more often than not released.

Ultimately, the head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Dr Bernard Kouchner, has the power to sack judges and prosecutors accused of abusing the law.

None has been dismissed so far.

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