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Serbia Charges 17 Former Kosovo Rebels with War Crimes

Serbian prosecutors have indicted 17 former ethnic Albanian guerrilla fighters for war crimes allegedly committed against civilians in Kosovo immediately after the 1998-99 war in the breakaway province.

Friday's indictment charges the former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army with killing at least 52 Serbs, Roma and Albanian civilians.

The men, eight of whom are still at large, were also charged with raping a large number of women as well as illegal detention, mutilation, torture and looting.

The alleged war crimes took place in three locations near the eastern town of Gnjilane with the aim of forcing Serbs who remained after the war out of Kosovo, where 90 percent of the population of two million is ethnic Albanian.

NATO sent peacekeepers to Kosovo in 1999 under a United Nations mandate, after a 78-day alliance bombing campaign forced Serbian and Yugoslav security forces from the area.

The alleged attacks against Serb civilians took place after that deployment, between June and September of 1999.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders declared independence from Serbia in February 2008. Serbia, backed by its traditional ally Russia, has refused to recognize the declaration and insists that it still maintains sovereignty over Kosovo.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.