Trials throw doubt on Kosovo courts, police

PRISTINA, Aug 12, 2000 -- (Reuters) The prolonged trial of a Kenyan aid worker for theft has raised troubling questions about policing and legal standards in Kosovo more than a year after the United Nations took over the province.

Peter Muriuki, 40, a project officer for CARE International, and two ethnic Albanian men have been in custody since shortly after the theft on April 1 of a safe belonging to another aid agency that held some DEM 500,000 (USD 250,000).

At hearings this week key witnesses withdrew the testimony the case was based on, saying they had been intimidated by members of the UN international police force in Kosovo into giving evidence against Muriuki and the other men.

But the court, UN-run but dominated by ethnic Albanian judges, continued the case, calling for the police officers accused of coercion to appear on Monday to confront witnesses.

"There is no evidence left that implicates the three defendants so we are puzzled why the case is continuing," an international trial observer said. "The bigger issue here is the quality of the UNMIK (UN Mission in Kosovo) police."

Muriuki and CARE International have also alleged the U.S. police officer at the centre of the case harassed defendants and exhibited bias. Senior UN police officials deny such charges but acknowledge proper arrest procedures were not followed.

Legal monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have complained about police conduct and the behavior of the presiding judge, an ethnic Albanian, who is reported to have asked CARE for a job for his son.

The accused face a maximum of 20 years imprisonment if found guilty.

"We think fundamentally there is no case against Peter," said Care International spokeswoman Alix de Mauny. "We believe profoundly in his innocence."


Bernard Kouchner, head of the UN mission that has run Kosovo as a de facto protectorate since a NATO bombing campaign forced out Serb forces, has refused to move the trial but acted on OSCE concerns by putting an international judge on the case.

The Muriuki trial highlights the challenges for the United Nations, which arrived in mid-1999, in establishing a credible justice system in post-war Kosovo with untrained local judges, inexperienced prosecutors, and ill-defined procedural rules.

Judges from Kosovo's isolated Serb minority community boycott proceedings, leaving trials against non-Albanians open to accusations of ethnic bias.

The first acquittal of Serbs on charges of killing ethnic Albanians came this week, but only after an international judge was appointed and the U.S. army, following a media inquiry, belatedly acknowledged it had shot the victim.

UN officials also accept that the international police force assembled in Kosovo to deliver fair and impartial justice has had serious teething troubles and struggled to stem a tide of violent crime, ethnic intimidation and disorder.

The situation in one case encouraged international police to override international law and arrange the illegal extradition of a Kenyan man, Moses Omweno, to face theft charges.

Omweno was seized in Nairobi in June, held incommunicado, transported back to Kosovo and charged. OSCE monitors found the British police involved acted "in reckless disregard for the law" and Omweno was released and allowed to leave the region.

An Angolan man suspected of the same theft was deceived into returning to Kosovo by the agency that employed him, with UNMIK knowledge, and also had to be released on human rights grounds.

UNMIK police deputy commissioner Michael Jorsback told Reuters on Friday that he was considering action against those involved in the Omweno case.

But perfection could not be expected, he said, when the police were 1,000 short of a proposed 4,700 staffing level, came from 48 countries with different training standards, worked via interpreters and experienced staff changes every six to nine months.

"Partly individuals have taken too much initiative and it's partly a system failure," said Jorsback. "There are still a lot of gray areas and we are expected to perform professionally. It's not easy."

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