Kosovo genocide witnesses stay away, fearing violence

GNJILANE, Yugoslavia, Sep 12, 2000 -- (AFP) Judges trying a Kosovo Serb accused of taking part in a genocidal campaign of rape and murder against his neighbors adjourned the case Monday to consider a request for more witnesses to be heard.

Zivosin Jokanovic, defense lawyer for 21-year-old Milos Jokic, told the court that five Serbian witnesses felt unable to attend the court because of fears for their safety in what is an almost entirely ethnic Albanian town.

He asked for the trial to be moved to Kosovska Mitrovica, where part of the town has a Serbian majority, to reassure witnesses.

The group, which includes a priest, could confirm Jokic's alibi that he was in another village on the day in May last year when he was supposed to have killed an ethnic Albanian farmer during a wartime drive to expel 2,000 people from the village of Verban, southeastern Kosovo, Jokanovic said.

Jokic has been charged with genocide, which under Yugoslavian law can be proved if even just one murder is found to have been linked with an attempt to drive a group from their homes.

For its part, the prosecution, said it had no objection to more witness statements being taken, but insisted on its right to cross examine the Serbs, rather than simply hearing written testimony.

Jokic is also accused of having ordered the April 1999 murder of an ethnic Albanian and of having in May the same year raped an ethnic Albanian woman.

Prosecution witness Marte Tuna, a former school dinner lady, told the court Monday she had seen Jokic and another Serb, Aleksandar Jacovic, in the village of Verban several times last May as part of a gang of nine or 10 paramilitaries involved in robbing and beating Albanian villagers.

Jacovic, a former conscript in the Yugoslav army (VJ) and now a member of Kosovo's post war, multi-ethnic, internationally funded and trained police force, denied he was even in Kosovo at the time of the killing, claiming he had been deployed to the Serbian-Bulgarian border by the VJ.

He said he had known the accused at school, saying he was a "good guy", but that in 1999 he had not returned to Kosovo before June.

In a heated exchange, Tuna denied his claims, saying that she had known both Jacovic and Jokic since childhood.

"The paramilitaries that attacked Verban did not come from Serbia," she said, "They were local Serbs" from nearby Vitina, Jokic's home town.

Jokic remained impassive on the accused's bench at the front of the court during the exchanges.

The trial is presided over by five judges, including an international judge appointed by Kosovo's post war UN administration. The judges' deliberations continued Monday.

Kosovo's 1998-1999 civil war between ethnic Albanian separatist guerrillas and mainly Serbian Yugoslavian forces ended in June 1999 when the KFOR peacekeeping force entered the province on the back of a 78-day NATO bombing campaign.

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