A panel of judges in Kosovo has sentenced an ethnic Albanian man to 17 years in prison for murder. It is the first ruling of its kind for EULEX, as the mission is known, since it assumed responsibility last year.
European Union policemen, are part of the EULEX mission
A panel of three judges -- two from EULEX and one from Kosovo -- found 59-year-old Gani Gashi guilty of killing a man and severely wounded members of the victim's family at a checkpoint in 1998.
"This trial shows that EULEX is serious about investigating and prosecuting war crimes cases whenever they took place, as long as we have enough evidence for a successful prosecution to proceed," said Chief EULEX Prosecutor Theo Jacobs. "We will do this regardless of the ethnicity of those involved in the crime."
The murder victim was an ethnic Albanian whom Gashi shot in the back while the man was trying to flee fighting between Albanian-separatist and Serbian forces.
"By this act, Gani Gashi committed the criminal offence of war crime against the civilian population," the panel of judges said in their ruling, handed down on Tuesday, March 3.
The EU is working together with Kosovan authorities
EULEX took over responsibility for maintaining order in Kosovo from NATO in 2008, the same year Kosovo declared its independence. It is hoped the European mission will help ease Kosovo's transition to normalcy.
Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority but which Serbia views as part of its territory, was the scene of bloody fighting in the late 1990s. In 1999 it was placed under UN administration, with NATO-led KFOR troops keeping law and order.
EULEX is the largest civilian mission ever launched under the European Security and Defense Policy. Its mandate is chiefly advisory, but it does retain some executive powers.
Meanwhile EULEX has also commenced its first-ever trial in ethnic-Serbian-dominated northern Kosovo. The proceedings opened in the town of Mitrovica after being delayed for two days by Serbian protests.
At issue in that case is a robbery involving two ethnic Serbians.