Trial of three Serbs in murder case put off

GNJILANE, Jul 25, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Kosovo court on Monday put off a trial of three Serbs accused of killing an ethnic Albanian man after hearing new evidence that the victim could have been killed by U.S. soldiers.

Presiding French judge Patrice de Charette and four ethnic Albanian judges ruled that the trial would be resumed on August 7 to allow time to gather information on arms seized in the home of the three Serbs and to "reconstruct the crime scene".

It was not clear how the court intended to reconstruct the events of July 10, 1999.

The U.S. soldiers involved have long left Kosovo and the house of Miroljub Momcilovic and his sons Jugoslav and Boban was been burnt down several months after they were arrested, according to testimony read out by one of the judges.

The case had already sparked fears of a miscarriage of justice among international observers.

A videotape of the house security system played in the court showed several ethnic Albanians coming with weapons to home of Momcilovics and trying to break in.

A single shot is heard coming from an unclear source and then the Albanians start shooting in various directions.

The Serbs were arrested immediately after the shootout, which took place only a few weeks after the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force moved into Kosovo and when the province was awash with revenge attacks by Albanians on Serbs.

Two ethnic Albanians were killed in the shootout and the Momcilovics are accused of the murder of Afrim Gagica and of illegal possession of firearms.

U.S. forces have already acknowledged killing one man after being fired upon in a shootout. But testimony provided by U.S. military authorities last week said a U.S. sniper might have shot a second man.

Testimony read in the court on Monday seemed to indicate that U.S. soldiers had hit two different men. Other testimony said a sizeable number of weapons and some drugs had been found in the Serb house. The Serbs denied possessing drugs.

The U.S. Army has provided no explanation as to why the new information was not provided more quickly. In a statement released on Thursday, it said it had reopened its investigation into the case last month after a query from a reporter.

De Charette is one of several foreign judges brought in by Kosovo's United Nations administration to ensure impartiality in a society with deep ethnic hatreds.

Amnesty International human rights watchdog warned in April that the trial of the Momcilovic family - which began with a panel of ethnic Albanian judges who refused to admit the video evidence - risked being a serious miscarriage of justice.

Original article