PRISTINA (Reuters) – A court in Kosovo has sentenced a lawmaker who once served as a government minister to two years in jail for denying a massacre by Serb forces in 1999 which prompted NATO’s intervention to halt the war.
Ivan Todosijevic was serving as a minister in the Pristina government in March this year when he described NATO as an aggressor, declared the “Racak massacre was fabricated” and called Albanians “terrorists”.
Serbs killed 44 Albanians in the village of Racak in 1999 before NATO went to war to drive Serb forces out of Kosovo, ending a counter-insurgency war in which more than 13,000 people, mainly local Albanians, were killed.
Kosovo’s 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority praises NATO for halting the war, a development that paved the way to independence in 2008.
In the ruling the judge said Todosijevic’s remarks, during a commemoration of the start of the NATO bombing, “intentionally incited and publicly promoted hatred, division and intolerance among national, racial and ethnic groups living in Kosovo.”
Todosijevic’s lawyer said his client, who was subsequently dismissed from his job as a minister because of his comments, would appeal against the verdict.
“The verdict is a proof that human rights are being violated in Kosovo. My client is sentenced for something which is not even considered a criminal act,” lawyer Nebojsa Vlajic told Serb media.
Serb President Aleksandar Vucic said the verdict was “terrifying”.
Kosovo has been recognized by more than 110 states but not by five EU member states, Serbia and Russia.
Serbia’s former southern province, Kosovo is still seen by Serbia as part of its territory. Many Serbs consider Kosovo the cradle of their nation and Orthodox Christian faith.
Todosijevic comes from the Serb minority which accounts for about 5 percent of the country’s population of 1.8 million. Serbs in Kosovo refuse to accept Kosovo’s statehood.
After 78 days of bombing, under the terms of an armistice, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ordered his troops to withdraw from Kosovo and be replaced with NATO control.
Less than 4,000 NATO peacekeepers are still deployed.
Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Additional reporting by Ivana Sekularac in Belgrade, Editing by William Maclean