Albanian fighter gets 13-year prison sentence

Serbia's Supreme Court sentenced for 13 years of prison a former ethnic Albanian fighter who took part in torturing and raping civilians in Kosovo province.

Despite defense appeals that Anton Lekaj, 26, be sent back to Kosovo a United Nations and NATO protectorate since 1999  the court confirmed an earlier verdict that found him guilty of war crimes.

Lekaj was a member of the Kosovo Liberation Army that took up arms to secede Kosovo from Serbia. NATO's 1999 intervention in the conflict forced Serb government forces to halt their crackdown on the separatists and pull out of the province.

As Serbs were retreating in June 1999, Lekaj ambushed a wedding party of local Gypsies, an ethnic community that mostly tried to stay out of the Serb-Albanian fighting, but was often targeted by Kosovo Albanians for being loyal to Serbs.

Lekaj and several other KLA members abducted at least 11 Gypsies, raped a girl, sexually abused a man and severely beat the rest of the group for several days in a basement of a deserted hotel in southwestern Kosovo, according to the verdict.

Four abducted persons were later executed by Lekaj and his fellow-rebels.

Lekaj denied any wrongdoing and also said he did not recognize the Serbian court.

Most Kosovo Albanians sought here for insurgency-related crimes remain beyond the reach of Serbia's judiciary because the province has been under U.N. and NATO control. Lekaj, however, was arrested during a car theft in neighboring Montenegro in 2004 and was later extradited to Belgrade.

Kosovo's future status is currently under discussion at the U.N. Security Council. A U.N. envoy has proposed supervised independence for the province, a plan rejected by Serbia.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova