January 21, 2008 / 5:56 PM / 12 years ago

U.N. prosecutor says ex-Kosovo PM approved rape and murder

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Kosovo’s former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj approved the rape, persecution and murder of Serb civilians when he led a guerrilla force in the 1990s, prosecutors at his war crimes trial said on Monday.

Haradinaj, a Kosovo Albanian who served as a regional commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the 1998-99 war with Serb forces before becoming prime minister, is charged with responsibility for torture, murder, rape and deportation.

“There was a saying: ‘God in heaven, Haradinaj on earth’,” prosecutor David Re said, summing up his case at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

“His degree of control was such... that the murders, tortures and rapes could not have occurred without his approval,” he added.

Prosecutors are seeking a 25-year-sentence for Haradinaj, 39, and his two co-accused Idriz Balaj, the commander of the “Black Eagles”, a special unit of the KLA, and Lahi Brahimaj, Haradinaj’s uncle.

All three accused have pleaded not guilty.

Haradinaj, who once worked as a nightclub bouncer, resigned in 2005 after being indicted by the U.N. tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by forces he commanded.

Serbia has had no formal control over Kosovo, whose two-million population is 90 percent Albanian, since NATO bombing drove out Serb forces in 1999 to halt their killing and ethnic cleansing in a two-year war against separatist rebels.

The breakaway province is now a U.N. protectorate occupied by 16,000 NATO peacekeepers, and is expected shortly to declare independence with Western backing.

Individuals on both sides of the conflict have been indicted by the U.N. tribunal.

During the trial Haradinaj’s defence lawyer said he fought an honourable war, targeting combatants not civilians.

Haradinaj is the most senior former KLA guerrilla to be indicted over the war and the first serving head of government to be indicted since former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

After closing arguments this week a panel of judges will retire to consider their verdict, although it is not known when they will deliver this.

Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; editing by Keith Weir

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