Serbian prosecutor charges 9 ex-troops for allegedly killing civilians during Kosovo war

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia's war crimes prosecutor has charged nine former paramilitary fighters with war crimes for the brutal killing of more than 40 civilians during the war in Kosovo, the prosecutor's office said Saturday.

The nine are accused of murder, looting, rape, intimidation and destruction of property of ethnic Albanian civilians in the western Kosovo village of Cuska in May 1999, the statement said.

The purpose of the crimes was to drive the ethnic Albanians from their homes, it added.

The indictment against the nine, all former members of the Sakali, or Jackals, paramilitary unit, is part of pro-Western Serbian government efforts to deal with the wartime past as it seeks EU membership.

The atrocities committed in Cuska and the surrounding villages are among the worst from Kosovo's 1998-99 war. Altogether, around 10,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, were killed during the conflict.

The indictment for Cuska crimes says that "the accused have shown particular brutality, ruthlessness and insensitivity," the prosecutor's statement said.

It added that the accused intimidated the civilians by snatching small children away from them, shooting in front of their feet, putting knives at their throats or beating them.

The murders were committed in a brutal way, often by firing multiple rounds into the victims' backs, the indictment said. The bodies were burned to prevent identification, it added.

Serbian prosecutors have initially opened an investigation against 26 people for the crimes committed in western Kosovo in 1999.

The brutality of Serbia's crackdown in Kosovo had prompted NATO to bomb the country to end the war. Then-President Slobodan Milosevic and several top wartime state officials and security officers were tried for Kosovo war crimes at the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Milosevic died in 2006 before his genocide trial ended.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008.

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