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Kosovo court shortens jail terms for witness tampering

#Kosovo #court #shortens #jail #terms #witness #tampering

A special Kosovo court reduced the prison sentences on Thursday of two former rebels convicted of intimidating witnesses to war crimes during the 1990s independence conflict with Serbia.

Appeals judges in The Hague shaved three months off the jail terms given to Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj in May 2022, shortening their sentences to four years and three months each.

Gucati, the head of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) veterans association, and his deputy Haradinaj, were found guilty last year of revealing the names of hundreds of witnesses whom they branded “traitors, spies and collaborators”.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers court on Thursday upheld their convictions on three counts of intimidation and violating the tribunal’s secrecy, but acquitted them on appeal on two counts of obstructing officials.

“In view of their findings, the appeals panel by majority reduced Mr Gucati’s and Mr Haradinaj’s sentences,” presiding judge Michele Picard said.

The EU-funded court operates under Kosovo law but is based in the Netherlands to shield witnesses from intimidation in Kosovo, where former KLA commanders have long dominated political life.

It has issued war crimes charges against several senior members of the KLA, an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group that waged a 1998-99 independence struggle against Serbia, including former president Hashim Thaci.

In December the court handed down its first actual war crimes verdict in December, sentencing former rebel commander Salih Mustafa, who ran a makeshift torture centre, to 26 years in jail.

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.

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