US troops may have killed Kosovo man, court told

PRISTINA, Jul 22, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Kosovo court on Friday heard new evidence suggesting an ethnic Albanian man killed last year may have been shot by U.S. soldiers, not three Serbs who have spent a year in prison accused of his murder.

U.S. forces have already acknowledged killing one man after being fired upon in a shootout in the city of Gnjilane. But testimony just provided by U.S. military authorities says a U.S. sniper also shot a second man, the trial judge said.

"These are obviously new elements and we have to discuss them," French judge Patrice de Charette told the court, in remarks made available to reporters by international staff present in the courtroom.

De Charette, one of several foreign judges brought in by Kosovo's United Nations administration to ensure impartiality in a society with deep ethnic hatreds, was summarizing material in a new 130-page document submitted to the court on Tuesday.

In a case which had already sparked fears of a miscarriage of justice among international observers, Miroljub Momcilovic and his sons Jugoslav and Boban are accused of the murder of Afrim Gagica and of illegal possession of firearms.

They were arrested immediately after the shootout, which took place on July 10 last year, only a few weeks after the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force moved into Kosovo and when the province was awash with revenge attacks by Albanians on Serbs.

The Momcilovic family, which ran a car repair business in the city, have stated that Gagica and several other ethnic Albanians came with weapons to attack them in their home.

The court saw evidence on Friday from security cameras which the defense says backs up their case.

De Charette said the court would discuss the new evidence from the U.S. military when the trial continues on Monday.

The U.S. Army has provided no explanation as to why the new information was not provided more quickly. In a statement released on Thursday, it said it had reopened its investigation into the case last month after a query from a reporter.

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

As far back as April, Amnesty International warned that the trial of the Momcilovic family - which began with a panel of ethnic Albanian judges who refused to admit the video evidence - risked being a serious miscarriage of justice.

"The participation of KFOR soldiers in the exchanges of gunfire may also cast doubt on the accusation that it was the Momcilovics who were responsible for the death of Afrim Gagica," the respected rights group said in a statement at the time.

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