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EU probes ally of Kosovo PM, ambassador for war crimes

A file photo shows senior ex-commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), Sami Lushtaku (L) during a reburial ceremony at village of Likos
A file photo shows senior ex-commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), Sami Lushtaku (L) during a reburial ceremony at village of Likos

By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA (Reuters) - European Union police said on Thursday they had arrested five people, including a wartime ally of Kosovo's prime minister, and were investigating the ambassador to Albania on suspicion of war crimes during Kosovo's 1998-99 conflict.

The EU police and justice mission in Kosovo, EULEX, did not release the names of the five in detention, but a lawyer for Sami Lushtaku, mayor of the town of Skenderaj, said his client was among them and would appear in court on Friday.

Lushtaku has been regarded as close to Prime Minister Hashim Thaci since before the war, which saw NATO intervene with air strikes in 1999 to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces trying to crush an Albanian insurgency.

Lushtaku and Thaci were both senior commanders of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) from the hardline Drenica region. Lushtaku is now a member of Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo.

Without giving details, EULEX said in a statement the five had been investigated "for war crimes against the civilian population in the form of violation of bodily integrity and health of civilians held in a KLA detention center located in Likovc, Skenderaj municipality".

"One of the individuals is investigated also for war crimes in the form of killing of one civilian," it said.

The mission is also investigating Kosovo's ambassador to Albania Sylejman Selimi, a former KLA commander, his lawyer said.

"I was informed that my client is one of the suspects and there are allegations against him that he is involved in a case of keeping civilians in a detention center in Likovc," Tome Gashi told Reuters.

Gashi said his client would appear in court on Friday.

Sylejman Selimi was the commander of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF), which is trained by NATO. He left the force in 2011 to become ambassador to Albania.

Kosovo expects to transform the KSF into its own armed forces in the future but no dates have been set. Kosovo has no proper army but some 6,000 troops under NATO command patrol the new country.

The EU mission, established after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, handles sensitive war crimes cases, in a country where the former guerrillas are revered as heroes and clan loyalties run deep.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Matt Robinson and Andrew Roche)

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