First EULEX trial in K. Mitrovica postponed

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA -- Protesting Serb justice workers this morning blocked the courthouse in that town as EULEX was to start its first trial.

The trial has in the meantime been postponed, while the Serbs, who blocked both entrances to the building, left the scene.

However, they announced new protests unless the judicial system in the north of the province is arranged according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's six point plan.

They also demanded to have several key issues resolved before the EU mission judges and prosecutors try cases, including which laws they are implementing, what status the court operates under, and whether they are using a "republic of Kosovo" stamp.

Earlier in the day, the District Court in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica started a trial against two Kosovo Serbs accused of robbery.

It was to be the first time the court was working after one year. Two local Serbs were the defendants in the trial. They spent 14 and a half and 10 and a half months in custody, respectively, and were indicted in June of last year.

The two are suspected of entering the home of an elderly couple in the village of Gnježane, assaulting the couple and taking money and other belongings, along with two others, also Serbs.

The indictment is in accordance with the temporary criminal laws in Kosovo and the temporary law for criminal procedures, reports said earlier on Monday.

According to EULEX announcements, three of its judges will lead the trial and the prosecutor will be from the EU mission as well.

Court processes shut down in Kosovska Mitrovica last year on February 19, a day after Kosovo Albanians proclaimed independence unilaterally, at which time Serbs began to protest in front of the court building asking for their jobs back.

Local Serb judges and prosecutors were driven out of their offices after the 1999 war and the arrival of UNMIK and KFOR.

In March last year, there were conflicts in front of the court house when UNMIK police and KFOR troops stormed the building to arrest the Serbs protesting inside.

They were released the same day without charges.

But the town erupted in violence, which ended with the death of one UN police officer, while over 100 protestors and KFOR soldiers and police were injured.

After negotiations with Belgrade, UNMIK opening the Municipal and District Courts in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica in October of last year.

Currently, there are only EULEX court officials working there, but EU mission chief Yves de Kermabon stated last week in a visit to the city that they are “working on the question of returning the local Serb and Albanian personnel to that institution.”