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Serbian war crimes prosecutor charges paramilitaries for Kosovo killings

Belgrade has charged nine former Serbian paramilitaries with killing 43 ethnic-Albanian civilians during the Kosovo war. Prosecuting such crimes is key to Serbia's EU membership talks.

Serbia's war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic

War crimes prosecutor Vukcevic said the killings were "brutal"

Nine members of the Jackals, a Serbian paramilitary unit that fought alongside Serb forces in a brutal crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians in the Kosovo war, have been charged by Serbia's war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic with rape, robbery and the killing of 43 ethnic-Albanian civilians in the Kosovar village of Cuska in 1999.

The nine have been in detention since earlier this year and the charges stem from an investigation made by the prosecutor's office in cooperation with the European Union mission in Kosovo (EULEX).

The violence was committed in an "extremely brutal way," a statement from the Belgrade-based prosecutor's office said, "with the main goal to spread fear among the Kosovo Albanian population forcing them to leave their homes and go to Albania."

A softened stance

The move may be a sign Serbia is getting serious about addressing its history as it moves to join the European Union.

Kosovo Albanians celebrate with the new Kosovo flag the independence in Kosovo's capital Pristina on February 17, 2008

Kosovo remains a stumbling block for Serbia's EU membership talks

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 and is now recognized as a state by most EU countries. Serbia has challenged the unilateral secession but agreed to a non-binding United Nations compromise resolution last week calling for dialogue between the Belgrade and Pristina.

EU leaders welcomed the compromise, saying it could help Serbia's membership process. Meting out justice to those involved in atrocities committed by Serbs during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in a series of wars in the 1990s is a key condition for the EU in membership talks.

Serbia is looking to conclude a Stabilization and Association Agreement, one step towards membership, but must first arrest and extradite Ratko Mladic. Mladic is the Bosnian Serb army leader who commanded the troops responsible for the mass killing of Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. He is wanted by the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Author: Holly Fox (AFP/AP/Reuters)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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