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Kosovo court to give first war crimes verdict

#Kosovo #court #give #war #crimes #verdict

A special Kosovo court in The Hague will hand down its long-awaited first war crimes verdict Friday in the trial of a former rebel commander accused of murder and torture.

Salih Mustafa allegedly abused prisoners in a makeshift jail run by the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in the 1998-1999 independence war with Serbia.

The verdict comes at a sensitive time for Kosovo, where ethnic tensions have flared up again nearly a quarter-century after the war, with attackers exchanging gunfire with police and throwing a stun grenade at EU law enforcers at the weekend.

Judges at the heavily-secured court will read out the verdict from 9:00 am (0800 GMT), with Mustafa charged with the war crimes of murder, torture, cruel treatment and arbitrary detention.

The court operates under Kosovo law but is based in the Netherlands and funded by the EU to shield witnesses from intimidation, given that former KLA commanders still dominate political life in Kosovo.

The 50-year-old Mustafa, who was arrested in 2020 while working as an adviser at Kosovo’s defence ministry, denounced the “Gestapo” court when his trial opened last year.

Prosecutors say Mustafa, nicknamed Commander Cali, and his men “brutalised and tortured” at least six fellow ethnic Kosovo Albanians accused of collaborating with Serbs.

Prisoners were kept in grim conditions in a stable in Zllash, a village east of the capital Pristina, with Mustafa personally taking part in the beatings, they said.

One young man died after being repeatedly beaten and tortured, and his body was found in a shallow grave.

– Kosovo tensions –

The trial has heard from 29 witnesses during 52 actual days in court, said the tribunal, which is formally known as the Kosovo Specialist Chambers.

It is the court’s first judgement dealing specifically with war crimes charges since it was set up in 2015. 

Last year it jailed two KLA veterans for intimidating witnesses, although they were not charged with war crimes.

Kosovo reluctantly passed a law to allow the creation of the court after a 2010 Council of Europe report alleged atrocities by KLA forces.

These had gone unpunished even as a number of Serbians have been convicted by other courts over the wars that ripped apart Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The court has issued war crimes charges against several senior members of the KLA including former Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, who resigned after being indicted and is still regarded as a hero at home.

The Kosovo court in November lost its chief prosecutor, Jack Smith, after he was tapped to lead a US probe into highly sensitive investigations of Donald Trump. 

The Kosovo war, which left 13,000 people dead, ended when Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic’s forces withdrew after an 11-week NATO bombing campaign.

Although Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, Belgrade does not recognise it and encourages the Serb majority in northern Kosovo to defy Pristina’s authority.

Tensions have rocketed in recent months in the north over Kosovo’s decision to replace Belgrade-issued car licence plates with ones issued in Pristina.

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