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Kosovo grants amnesty to ethnic-Serb minority

Kosovo has granted wide-ranging amnesty to minority Serbs who rebelled against the government. The move is seen as a key step in EU-brokered efforts to normalize relations between Pristina and Belgrade.

The amnesty bill passed by a two-thirds majority Thursday in the Kosovo parliament, speaker Jakup Krasniqi said.

"In a fragile democracy such as the one in which we live, laws aim to change reality for good," Kosovo's deputy prime minister, Hajredin Kuci, told lawmakers ahead of the vote.

The law does not specifically mention any ethnic group, but is designed to target ethnic Serbs in the north of the country who have violently opposed Kosovo independence, including attacking international and local security forces, erecting barricades and committing other acts of civil disobedience.

Around 70 offenses covered

Under the bill, the perpetrators of around 70 offenses "that were committed before June 20, 2013, shall be granted a complete exemption from criminal prosecution or from the execution of punishment for such offenses."

Crimes granted amnesty include armed rebellion, espionage, unlawfully crossing the border, arson, illegal possession of weapons, endangering Kosovo's territorial integrity and inciting national, racial, religious or ethnic hatred. However, the law does not outline reduced punishments for people convicted of crimes including murder, manslaughter, harassment, defamation, assault and theft.

Serbia and Kosovo agreed to normalize ties in April as part of their efforts towards eventual EU membership.

Kosovo, a mostly ethnic-Albanian former province of Serbia, declared its independence in 2008. Belgrade and the approximately 40,000 ethnic Serbs in Kosovo reject Pristina's claim of independence. However under the EU's mediation efforts, Serbia has encouraged the Serb minority to comply with Kosovo's authorities in exchange for a degree of autonomy

dr/lw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)