[JURIST] A Kosovo court on Wednesday began trial of three former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) members accused of committing war crimes during the 1998-1999 Balkan ethnic conflicts [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The trial, being held in the Kosovo's District Court of Prishtina, involves a mixed team made up of local and European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) [official website] authorities. Former KLA commander and current parliamentary deputy Rrustem Mustafa [official website] along with two KLA soldiers, Latif Gashi and Nazif Mehmeti, are accused of torturing five ethnic Albanians detained near the town of Podujevo. Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci [official website], also a former KLA member, commented [AFP report] that the government is confident that the men will be acquitted. In 2003, the three were convicted of murder based on the same events, but the ruling was overturned [B92 report] by the Kosovo Supreme Court in 2005.
EULEX reached [JURIST report] its first guilty verdict in March, after formally beginning operations [JURIST report] last December. Also in March, the trial of two Serbian defendants was blocked [JURIST report] by hundreds of Serbian protesters and has been postponed indefinitely. Kosovo officially declared its independence from Serbia [JURIST report] in February 2008, and its new constitution [text] went into effect [JURIST report] that June. Kosovo's status as an independent nation has been recognized by over 60 countries, but Serbia has officially condemned the declaration [text, JURIST report] as illegal, citing UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) [text]. China and Russia, both members of the UN Security Council, support Serbia's position on Kosovo.