Salih Mustafa, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), is accused of arbitrary detention, cruel treatment, torture and murder during the war with Serbia (1998-1999).
The trial of a former Albanian independence guerrilla commander accused of war crimes, the first to be tried before the Special Tribunal for Kosovo since its creation, opens Wednesday (September 15th) in The Hague. Salih Mustafa, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), is accused of arbitrary detention, cruel treatment, torture and murder during the war with Serbia (1998-1999). Arrested last year while working as an adviser for the Defense Ministry, Salih Mustafa reportedly tortured at least six civilians in a detention center in April 1999 in Zllash, Kosovo.
The senior judge will formally open the trial on Wednesday and read the indictment to Salih Mustafa, the court said in a statement. “The accused will be asked if he understood the indictment and if he wishes to confirm his earlier plea. In this case, the accused pleaded not guilty ”, indicates the press release. Prosecutors will have three hours to make their opening remarks, and victims’ lawyers will then have 90 minutes to speak. The trial will hear 16 witnesses during further hearings to be held in September and October.
The war in Kosovo, which claimed 13,000 lives, ended in 1999 with a NATO bombing campaign that forced Serbian forces to withdraw. After the wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, scores of Serbian war criminals were convicted by other international tribunals. Established in 2015, the Special Tribunal for Kosovo (KSC) is responsible for investigating war crimes and crimes committed in Kosovo between 1998 and 2000 by the KLA against Serbs, Roma and Kosovar opponents to the guerrillas. It is a body governed by Kosovar law, but which sits in the Netherlands in order to protect witnesses against pressure and threats. It is made up of international judges and prosecutors.
Burns and electric shocks
Salih Mustafa is the first to be tried by this court, which also indicted the former president of Kosovo (2016-2020) Hashim Thaçi. Other former KLA officials have for their part been prosecuted in the past before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), notably the former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, acquitted in 2012 at the same time as two other guerrilla leaders.
Salih Mustafa, “Cali Commander” by his nom de guerre, is said to have run a pre-trial detention center for those accused of spying, collaborating with Serbian forces or not cooperating with the KLA, the act says. charge. The prisoners were reportedly held in locked stables and suffered “Blows with various instruments, burns, administration of electric shocks”. Some are said to have been urinated on in front of other detainees. Salih Mustafa himself allegedly beat an inmate with a baseball bat and slapped, punched and kicked another. The rest of the crimes were allegedly committed under his orders, or he “Knew or had a reason to know” that they were committed by people under his command.
The tribunal’s activities remain sensitive, as former guerrilla leaders continue to dominate the political landscape in Kosovo and are treated by many as heroes. “I wonder if someone who has defended their home and their country from the aggressors can be blamed for this?” says Adem Idrizi, 65, a retiree from Pristina. “They can condemn Mustafa and the others a hundred times over, but for me these are the heroes who had the courage to stand up against Serbia.” But others trust the court to do its job.“I believe international judges will establish the truth. I only believe the evidence “said Blerta Hyseni, 24, a law graduate.
International tensions over Kosovo continue today. The United States and most Western countries recognized the independence of the former Serbian province, which Belgrade never accepted.