Ex-Kosovo PM Pleads Innocent at Hague

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 1, 2007; 9:20 AM

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Kosovo's former prime minister pleaded innocent Thursday at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal to charges of involvement in the murder, rape and torture of Serbs and suspected Serb collaborators in the province's 1998-99 war.

Ramush Haradinaj is scheduled to go on trial starting Monday along with two other former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj. Prosecutors say all three were part of a criminal plot to drive Serbian forces out of the Western Kosovo region of Dukagjin.

The three sat impassively as Judge Alphons Orie read out 37 war crimes charges against them, including multiple counts of murder, persecution and torture against each. A conviction on any charge could carry a sentence of up to life in prison.

When the judge asked Haradinaj to enter a plea to the charges, he stood and replied: "I plead not guilty and I am offended by these accusations."

All three had pleaded not guilty in March 2005 to abuses against Serb, Albanians and Gypsy civilians during the war against Serbia, but they were required to enter new pleas because their indictment has since been amended by prosecutors.

Ramush, a rebel commander, turned to politics after the war and was prime minister for 100 days before being indicted by U.N. prosecutors in 2005.

He immediately resigned and turned himself in to The Hague tribunal, vowing to clear his name. He was released before his trial and has continued to play an active role in Kosovo's political life as the Albanian-dominated province has moved toward independence from Serbia.

© 2007 The Associated Press