Serb sentenced for killing two Albanians

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Aug 10, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Kosovo judicial body sentenced a Serb man to eight and a half years in jail on Wednesday for killing two ethnic Albanian neighbors during last year's NATO bombing.

Zvezdan Simic, 38, from the village of Svinjare, near Kosovska Mitrovica, was sentenced for a "double murder with little motive and illegal possession of weapons".

Simic's defense lawyers said they would appeal.

An international judge took part in the trial, which opened on Tuesday at the Mitrovica municipal court.

Simic was one of some 30 Serbs who had staged a hunger strike from prison in Mitrovica earlier this year demanding assurances from the international community that they would be tried by a panel of international judges.

Christer Karphammer from Sweden joined four ethnic Albanian judges for the trial.

The Serbs, many of them accused of war crimes during last year's conflict between Serbs and members of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, had said they would not receive a fair trial before Albanian judges.

On Tuesday a Kosovo court cleared three Serb men of murdering an ethnic Albanian last year, in the first such acquittal since the UN took charge of justice in the province, after the United States belatedly revealed its soldiers shot the man when he threatened them.

Kosovo remains legally part of Serb-dominated Yugoslavia but has been a de facto international protectorate since June 1999, when NATO-led peacekeepers and a UN civilian administration replaced Yugoslav forces and administrators in the province.

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