Ally of Kosovo PM among five arrested for war crimes

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PRISTINA (Reuters) – A close wartime ally of Kosovo’s prime minister was among five people arrested by European Union police on Thursday on suspicion of war crimes during a 1998-99 insurgency against Serbian forces.

The EU police and justice mission in Kosovo, EULEX, did not release the names of those arrested, but a lawyer for Sami Lushtaku, mayor of the town of Skenderaj, said his client was among them and would appear in court on Friday.

Lushtaku has been regarded as close to Prime Minister Hashim Thaci since before the war, which saw NATO intervene with air strikes in 1999 to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces trying to crush an Albanian insurgency.

Lushtaku and Thaci were both senior commanders of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) from the hardline Drenica region. Lushtaku is now a member of Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo.

EULEX, in a statement, said the five had been investigated “for war crimes against the civilian population in the form of violation of bodily integrity and health of civilians held in a KLA detention center located in Likovc, Skenderaj municipality”.

“One of the individuals is investigated also for war crimes in the form of killing of one civilian,” it said.

The EU mission, established after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, handles sensitive war crimes cases, in a country where the former guerrillas are revered as heroes and clan loyalties run deep.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci- Editing by Matt Robinson and Andrew Roche)

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