By Fatos Bytyci
PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo's prime minister called on Friday for an international investigation after some of his countrymen were convicted of taking part in a gun battle with Macedonian police.
The men were part of a group of ethnic Albanians jailed in neighbouring Macedonia on Thursday, some of them for life, on charges of plotting attacks and clashing with the police in a 2015 shootout.
Crowds took to the streets of Kosovo's capital after the sentencing, accusing the Macedonian authorities of staging the attack. Protesters in the eastern Kosovan town of Gjilan burnt the Macedonian flag.
Kosovan media and officials have regularly said the accused Albanians were innocent and the victims of a plot by Macedonia's former nationalist government - an allegation dismissed by Skopje.
"Justice must be done," Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said in a statement. "An international investigation would help find the truth which we are all demanding."
He did not say who or what should carry out the inquiry.
Kosovo's foreign minister, Behgjet Pacolli, said he had called his ambassador in Skopje for consultations and asked for a "clarification" from the Macedonian ambassador in Pristina, without going into further details.
Most of the defendants in Thursday's hearing were from neighbouring Kosovo, while others were from Macedonia’s own Albanian minority. They all denied the charges.
The 2015 shootout occurred during a police raid that followed an attack by armed men on a border post. Some of them were former guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (NLA), an ethnic Albanian militia that had fought an insurgency in 2001 in which scores of people were killed.
Macedonia, a small ex-Yugoslav republic of about two million people, declared independence in 1991 and mostly avoided the violence that accompanied the break up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, until the clashes with ethnic Albanian fighters in 2001.
Albanians are believed to make up around 30 percent of Macedonia’s population, living mostly in the northwest near the borders with Kosovo and Albania.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Ivana Sekularac and Andrew Heavens)