Former rebel denies war crimes as Kosovo tribunal begins first trial

Former KLA officer Salih Mustafa appears before a special tribunal in The Hague
Former KLA officer Salih Mustafa appears before a special tribunal in The Hague
Former KLA officer Salih Mustafa, accused of murder, torture and brutal treatment during the Kosovo conflict of 1998-1999, appears before a special tribunal set up to hear cases of war crimes allegedly committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in The Hague There are. Netherlands, September 15, 2021. Robin van Lonkhuijsen/ANP/Pool via Reuters

September 15, 2021

by Stephanie van den Burgo

The Hague (Reuters) – A special tribunal in The Hague probing allegations of atrocities committed by pro-Kosovo freedom fighters opened its first case on Wednesday against a commander accused of torturing prisoners during the 1998-1999 conflict with Serbia .

Early in his trial, 50-year-old Salih Mustafa pleaded not guilty to war crimes charges, comparing the court to the Nazi secret police.

“I am not guilty of any of the cases brought before me by this Gestapo office,” Mustafa told the judges.

A Kosovo court, seated in the Netherlands and staffed by international judges and lawyers, was established in 2015 to handle cases under Kosovo law against Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters. It differs from the United Nations Tribunal, which was also based in The Hague and tried Serbian officials for crimes committed in the same conflict.

The Kosovo Tribunal’s most high-profile suspect is former Kosovo President Hashim Thasi, who turned himself in last year to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In the court’s first case, Mustafa faces murder charges, who is charged with running a prison unit where prisoners are subjected to daily beatings and torture.

Prosecutor Jack Smith said Mustafa’s victim accomplices were Kosovo Albanians “whose only crime was to have political views that differed from those of the KLA and its leaders”.

Mustafa’s indictment states that he personally participated in some beatings and tortures and was present when a prisoner was so badly hurt that he later died.

More than 13,000 people are believed to have died during the 1998–99 war in Kosovo, when the southern province was still part of Serbia under the rule of the late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The fighting ended after NATO airstrikes against Milosevic’s forces, and Kosovo is now an independent country.

The KLA fighters are considered heroes by many in Kosovo, and opponents of the Tribunal consider it unfair that they are being prosecuted, arguing that Serbia has made no similar effort to bring its own commanders to justice. not done.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg, Additional reporting by Fatos Bitisci in Pristina; Editing by Anthony Deutsch)

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