Kosovo court ready for first indictments

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Kosovo court ready for first indictments

The Hague (AFP) - A new court established to try crimes committed in the 1990s Kosovo conflict took a step closer Wednesday to receiving its first indictments, with fierce speculation over who could be targeted.

The Kosovo specialist chambers, funded by the European Union and set up in The Hague, was established to investigate and prosecute allegations of crimes -- including assassinations, unlawful detentions and organ trafficking -- during and after the Kosovo guerillas' war of independence from Serbia.

After beginning work in late 2016, the new tribunal's judges on Wednesday unanimously approved its rules. That means by next week it will be fully operational and "ready to start proceedings".

"After the entry into force of the rules within seven days as of today, there will be no legal impediment to receive any filing or indictment" from the prosecutor's office, the tribunal's president Ekaterina Trendafilova said.

The officially-named "Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution" has been established under Kosovan law, but situated in The Hague to protect witnesses in what are highly sensitive cases.

Made up of international judges, it will try serious crimes allegedly committed from 1998-2000 by the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against ethnic minorities and political opponents.

The conflict left 13,000 dead, most of them ethnic Albanians.

Prosecutor David Schwendiman vowed in September he would investigate cases "without fear or favour".

But Schwendiman, who was an international prosecutor in Bosnia and Herzegovina, refused to be drawn on how many people were being investigated and who could figure among those eventually charged.

Speculation is rife about whether Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci may be one of those targeted.

Thaci is the former political leader of the KLA, which led a fight by the majority ethnic Albanian territory for independence from Serbia.

But the country, which unilaterally declared its independence in 2008, has now entered a period of political uncertainty after indecisive parliamentary polls earlier this month.

The old guard of ex-guerrilla fighters, led by Thaci's PDK party, topped the polls but without a majority needed to form a government.