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Kosovo Ex-Fighter Gets 17 Years For 1998 Shooting

The EU law-and-order mission has been greeted with mixed feelings in Kosovo.
PRISTINA (Reuters) -- International judges have sentenced a former Kosovo Albanian guerrilla fighter to 17 years in prison for shooting a family in 1998, in the first such trial since the EU mission took over in December.

The European Union's EULEX mission of international police officers, customs agents, judges and prosecutors was deployed in Kosovo to help the Balkan country build up its institutions.

The panel of two international and one local judge found Gani Gashi, 59, who fought in the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) guerrilla force during the 1998-99 conflict, guilty of war crimes, the statement said.

"Four members of the Kosovo Albanian Obrija family were shot by Gashi," it added. "One person died and the other three were injured".

Gashi opened fire on the family when the car they were traveling in failed to stop at a UCK checkpoint he was manning.

The UCK waged guerrilla war against Serbian forces in 1998-99. Serbia's response, which included attacks on ethnic-Albanian civilians, drew NATO into an 11-week bombing campaign to drive Serb forces out of Kosovo.

Ten years after the conflict in Kosovo ended, little progress has been made in prosecuting war crimes as local prosecutors and judges are reluctant to handle such cases after witnesses reported receiving threats.

"This trial shows that EULEX is serious about investigating and prosecuting war crimes cases whenever they took place," the EULEX statement said.

A year after the Albanian majority declared independence, Kosovo remains divided between Albanians and minority Serbs who refuse to recognize Pristina institutions. Some 15,000 NATO peacekeepers monitor a fragile peace.