Kosovo Serbs trial suspended after video evidence accepted

PRISTINA, Apr 28, 2000 -- (AFP) The landmark trial of three Kosovo Serbs accused of killing an ethnic Albanian war hero was adjourned Thursday after the judge ruled that a video of the killing could be viewed.

Miroljub Momcilovic and his sons, Boban and Jugoslav, are accused of killing Afrim Gagica on July 10, 1999, when Gagica and four other ethnic Albanians stormed the Momcilovic house in Gnjilane, southeast Kosovo.

Amnesty International has raised fears the men may be convicted of murder despite a lack of evidence and because the video had not been included as evidence before the court.

The Momcilovics are the first Serbs to face trial for the murder of an ethnic Albanian since NATO-led peacekeepers and the United Nations took over the running of the Yugoslav province.

Gagica received a war hero's burial in Gnjilane for his role in the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) which fought Belgrade for almost two years.

The ethnic Albanian judge, Fahredin Ymeri, previously ruled as inadmissible evidence the video taken from a security camera attached to the Momcilovic home showing the ethnic Albanians attacking the house.

Amnesty said the video "shows the Albanian men approaching the gate of the house, shouting threats, producing handguns and kicking the gate".

The judge accepted a defense request that he look at the video, but only upon condition that its authenticity was established.

The court has heard that the three Serbs fired out of windows of their house after five ethnic Albanians threatened to burn it down before kicking in the door.

Miroljub Momcilovic told the court he and his sons had merely returned fire without aiming, hoping to scare the men and attract peacekeepers.

The gunfire attracted a US patrol which then came under fire from the ethnic Albanians as it approached, US army spokeswoman Captain Colleen Roberts said whe the trial opened Tuesday.

The US troops returned fire and killed one of the ethnic Albanians.

Afrim Gagica, died in the gun battle and the Momcilovics were charged with his murder by an ethnic Albanian judge in January, after seven months in detention.

The video, if finally accepted, could help in clarifying contradictory accounts of the incident from the ethnic Albanians who were with Gagica.

Raif Kosumi, one of the four ethnic Albanians accompanying Gagica to the home of the Momcilovics, who own a repair garage, told the court Thursday that they went to the house looking for spark plugs for their car.

Kosumi said Gagica rang on the interphone outside to ask the Momcilovic's if he could buy the plugs when he was shot at from windows of the house.

This contradicted a previous statement from Kosumi in which he declared that he and the others were sent to the Momcilovic house by military police from the KLA in order to disarm the Serbs.

Amnesty International has also complained that no autopsy was carried out on Gagica.

"There is no forensic evidence that they (the Momcilovics) killed anyone," said one UN legal observer earlier this week who asked not be named.

The UN observer said there was "a real possibility" that the US troops killed the man. And a US army official admitted there was "a possibility" that US bullets killed Gagica but said there were no forensic experts in Kosovo at the time, just one month after NATO-led peacekeepers rolled into the province.

Original article