Serbs in Kosovo jailed over deadly riots

Mar 28, 2013, 1:42 PM EDT
EU police officers from Poland guard the entrance at the U.N. court building in the northern Serb-dominated part of the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Thursday, March 28, 2013.
(AP Photo/Zveki)

MITROVICA, Kosovo (AP) — A Kosovo court on Thursday found three ethnic Serbs guilty of storming a U.N.-run court and inciting riots that led to the death of a Ukrainian peacekeeper in 2008.

The ruling came as dozens of NATO peacekeepers backed by armored vehicles secured the area around the court. Hundreds of local Serbs briefly blocked entrances to the building with big trucks filled with dirt.

The panel of three European Union judges convicted Marijan Ilincic and Dragan Milojevic, and sentenced them to 22 and 18 months in prison, respectively. A third defendant, Zoran Cavic, was convicted of similar charges and given a 9-month sentence that was suspended for one year, according to the EU's rule of law mission in Kosovo, EULEX.

Three other defendants were cleared of all charges.

A team of defense lawyers said they will appeal the three guilty verdicts.

Hours before the court proceeding started, EULEX armed special police units escorted the judges and the prosecutor into the court house. No incidents were reported, and the barricades were removed after the verdicts were made public.

Ethnic Serbs, who dominate Kosovo's north, boycott EULEX, saying it backs ethnic Albanian separatists.

In March 2008, a crowd of ethnic Serbs stormed the court house in Mitrovica to prevent EULEX from replacing the U.N. administration. The violence was in response to Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia.

About 130 people, including some 60 U.N. and NATO peacekeepers, were wounded during several days of clashes that ensued between Serbs and international peacekeepers. Thursday's guilty verdicts involved a Ukrainian peacekeeper who died from injuries received from fragments of a hand grenade. He was part of a special police unit deployed restore control of the courthouse from the Serb rioters.

Serbia rejects Kosovo's independence.