War crimes trial begins for former Kosovo PM

The trial of Kosovo's former prime minister and two other alleged rebel fighters charged with involvement in a campaign of murder, mistreatment and expulsions of Serbs during the province's brutal conflict with Serbia begins Monday at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal. Ramush Haradinaj - a commander with the Kosovo Liberation Army who turned to politics after the 1998-99 war and wound up as the province's prime minister - faces a maximum life sentence if convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, rape, torture and persecution. Also on trial are Idriz Balaj, alleged to be the former leader of a special unit known as the Black Eagles, and Lahi Brahimaj, whom prosecutors say was one of Haradinaj's deputies in the western Kosovo region of Dukagjin. All three have pleaded not guilty to the allegations in their 37-count indictment. Prosecutors portray Haradinaj as a ruthless commander in the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, whose forces resorted to murder, rape, torture and expulsions to drive Serbs and their supporters out of Dukagjin between March 1 and Sept. 30, 1998, so rebels could take total control of the area. While they did not personally commit all the alleged crimes, Haradinaj, Balaj and Brahimaj are held responsible for them because the offenses were part of a "joint criminal enterprise" to expel and mistreat Serbs and the three were part of the enterprise, prosecutors say.