January 15, 2016 / 4:38 PM / 2 years ago

Special Kosovo war crimes court to be set up in The Hague

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A special court is being set up in The Hague to try crimes allegedly committed by Kosovo Albanian guerrillas during and after a 1998-99 war in the former Serbian province, the Dutch government said on Friday.

The European Union says Kosovo must confront allegations of war crimes committed against ethnic Serbs by the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army during and immediately after the conflict if the young country is to further integrate with the 28-member bloc.

The EU will fund the court, to be known as the Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution, in which a panel of international judges will apply Kosovo laws. Those convicted would not be imprisoned in the Netherlands, the government said.

The KLA has been accused of committing war crimes against ethnic Serbs and political opponents and of desecrating Serbian cultural institutions during and after the 1998-1999 conflict.

NATO intervened in 1999 with 11 weeks of air strikes to drive out Serbian forces accused of massacring ethnic Albanian civilians and expelling hundreds of thousands in a brutal counter-insurgency campaign.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and has been recognized by more than 100 countries, including the major Western powers.

An estimated 10,000 people died during the conflict, most of them ethnic Albanians. About 1,700 people are still missing.

KLA fighters are seen by many in the predominantly ethnic Albanian province as freedom fighters for their role in securing independence from Belgrade, meaning witnesses against them are often reluctant to risk testifying in Kosovo itself.

The Kosovo tribunal will join several other courts in The Hague, including the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which tried war crimes suspects from the wars that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia, in which some 130,000 died in a series of conflicts that lasted most of the 1990s.

Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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