Judges of the European Union's justice mission in Kosovo on Thursday sentenced leading Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic to nine years in prison for war crimes against ethnic Albanian civilians.
The international court found Ivanovic guilty of murder and torture of civilians in 1999 during Kosovo’s war for independence from Serbia when Serb paramilitary forces attacked ethnic Albanians amid NATO bombings.
Judge Roxana Comsa of Romania said Ivanovic had been part of a group of Serb paramilitary and police forces that rounded up Albanian families in Mitrovica in April 1999 and separated a group of men, of which four were then shot and killed.
"The accused Oliver Ivanovic is sentenced to nine years of imprisonment," the judge said.
"Oliver Ivanovic was aware of the operation of expelling and killing Albanians ... he willingly complied with the plan, knowing that it would result in the killings," the court ruled.
Ivanovic denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated. Four other Kosovo Serbs charged together with him were acquitted.
Serbian officials denounced Thursday's verdict, which could raise tensions in the Balkan region and prompted Belgrade to start reconsidering its EU-brokered reconciliation talks with Pristina.
"The ruling in no way contributes to the continuation of the process of stability in the Balkans," Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said. "Those who stand behind the verdict are certainly not in favor of peace and stability."
Marko Djuric, a member of the Serbian delegation at the EU-mediated reconciliation talks with the Kosovo Albanians said the verdict "has nothing to do with law and justice" and was intended to "humiliate the Serbs."
"The red line is crossed," he said. "It is time to reconsider [the talks] and see what to do next."
NATO launched an air war to stop a bloody Serbian crackdown against Kosovo Albanian separatists.
Ivanovic was arrested in January 2014 by the European Union Rule of Law Mission, EULEX, on suspicion of committing war crimes against Kosovo Albanians.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February, 2008, but Serbia and the Kosovo Serbs do not recognise the split.