Murder trial Serbs may be freed after US provides new evidence

PRISTINA, Jul 21, 2000 -- (AFP) The U.S. army said Friday it has sent the judge handling the second trial of three Kosovo Serbs accused of killing an ethnic Albanian war hero new evidence which might lead to them being freed.

Investigators from the KFOR peacekeeping force on Tuesday handed the Gnjilane District Court "recently developed information" which could lead to a review of the Serbs' "detention status," a statement released by the US army's Headquarters Europe in Heidelberg said.

The trial of Miroljub Momcilovic and his sons Boban and Jugoslav began again Thursday with an international judge, in the southeast Kosovo town of Gnjilane, after a trial begun last year under an ethnic Albanian judge was abandoned.

The three Serbs are accused of killing Afrim Gagica, an ethnic Albanian and a well-known former member of the Kosovo Liberation Army, in a shoot-out outside their home in Gnjilane on July 10 last year.

They have been held in custody since the day of the shooting.

"Based on a June 19, 2000 media inquiry, the U.S. Criminal Investigation Command re-opened its investigation.

"Information from the second CID investigation provides the ... prosecutor with a more thorough and complete investigation concerning the death of Mr. Gagica," the statement said.

On June 17 last year army investigators handed Kosovo's UN administration a report "which stated that the Momcilovic family home was attacked and that they were defending themselves," the statement said.

A second ethnic Albanian was shot dead by U.S members of the KFOR peacekeeping force who intervened after the start of the gun battle, the statement said.

Following the start of the first trial on April 25 this year, the London-based human rights group Amnesty International criticized the conduct of the case against the Serbs.

Amnesty criticized the first judge's refusal to consider video evidence which the rights group said showed Gagica and his companions arriving at the Momilovic home armed and aggressively kicking the gate.

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