War crimes witness alleges intimidation 

A witness in a key war crimes trial against Serbian paramilitaries charged with atrocities in Kosovo said Wednesday that he and his family are facing threats and intimidation.

Zoran Raskovic told Serbia's war crimes court that he does not have the necessary protection. Raskovic alleged that the threats are coming from unidentified "powerful centers" within the security system.

Raskovic, himself a former fighter, is an important witness in the trial of 13 men charged with the killing of ethnic Albanian civilians in the village of Cuska, in western Kosovo, in 1999. The group includes former members of the Sakali, or Jackals, paramilitary unit.

The crime in Cuska is one of the most brutal of the 1998-99 conflict. Serb paramilitaries allegedly rounded up the villagers, robbed them, separated women and children from men, locked the men in a house and set it on fire.

The indictment says that "the accused have shown particular brutality, ruthlessness and insensitivity."

It alleges they intimidated the civilians by snatching small children from them, shooting in front of their feet, putting knives at their throats or beating them. The prosecutors say the purpose was to drive the ethnic Albanians from their homes.

Altogether, about 10,000 people were killed during the Kosovo conflict, which erupted when independence-seeking ethnic Albanians launched a rebellion against Serbian rule.

The brutality of Serbia's response to the rebellion prompted NATO to bomb the country for 78 days in 1999 to force it to withdraw its troops from Kosovo, which later declared independence in 2008.

Late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, government officials, top army and police officers have been tried over Kosovo crimes before the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

In Serbia, war crimes trials are part of efforts by pro-Western authorities to deal with the wartime past as the country seeks to join the European Union.

Raskovic suggested in his statement that those responsible for war crimes still maintain influence. He said they "are able to cover up rapists and killers of children, women, old men."

Raskovic is serving a sentence for unrelated criminal offenses, including theft. He wants to testify publicly and has refused offers to do so behind closed doors with a concealed identity.

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