Over 120 Kosovo Liberation Army ex-fighters have reportedly been summoned for questioning by Hague-based prosecutors, but it remains unknown which allegations from an explosive Council of Europe report on alleged wartime crimes might appear in indictments.
By Serbeze Haxhiaj
Over the last two weeks, Hysni Gucati, the head of the Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans’ Organisation, has been posting a series of short notifications on Facebook about his former comrades-in-arms who have recently been invited for interview by the Hague-based Specialist Prosecution, which is probing wartime and post-war crimes.
“He, like all the other invitees, will come out without a blemish,” is a common refrain at the end of Gucati’s posts.
The Specialist Prosecution has been stepping up its efforts to question former Kosovo Liberation Army members. Since January, when it invited the first senior ex-KLA fighters for interview, more than 120 people have been summoned, according to the War Veterans’ Organisation.
“Currently the number of summons is increasing. We cannot make the whole list public because some of the people invited to be interviewed in the capacity of suspect or witness have chosen not to make it public. But I can say that the entire KLA structure is there,” Nasim Haradinaj, the deputy head of the War Veterans Organisation, told BIRN.
Those who are ultimately indicted are expected to be tried by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, which were established in 2015 in The Hague, and grew out of allegations made in an explosive report by Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty back in 2010. An EU task force then looked into Marty’s allegations and concluded there was enough evidence for prosecutions for offences like murders, abductions, illegal detentions and sexual violence.
The so-called ‘Special Court’, backed by the European Union but operating as part of Kosovo’s justice system, has a mandate to address allegations of war crimes and political killings by the Kosovo Liberation Army between 1998 and 2000.
Haradinaj said that some of the lawyers for those who have been summoned by the Hague prosecutors have informed them that there will soon be arrests.
“It seems that the time has come for indictments and we are waiting for arrests very soon,” he said.
Haradinaj repeated a widely-held opinion in Kosovo – that the Special Court is biased because its focus is on crimes allegedly committed by KLA fighters, not by Serbs. “It is also nothing new to say that this is a biased court because its credibility is shaken by its mono-ethnic target,” he said.
He also expressed concern about the level of official support from the Kosovo authorities for the ex-fighters. “Our concern is that they are being supported in selective way. We strongly ask the authorities to help all of them equally and respect the law,” he urged.
‘Inhuman and degrading treatment’
According to Dick Marty’s report for the Council of Europe, during wartime a small but highly powerful group of KLA figures seized control over most of the illicit criminal enterprises in which Kosovo Albanians were involved in Albania, including organ-trafficking.
“Members of [the KLA’s] ‘Drenica Group’ have been indicated to have played vital roles as co-conspirators in various categories of criminal activity. They include Hashim Thaci, Xhavit Haliti, Kadri Veseli, Azem Syla, and Fatmir Limaj,” the report alleged.
Thaci is now Kosovo’s president, Veseli the speaker of parliament and Limaj a political party leader. Thaci, Haliti, Veseli and Limaj are not known to have been called for interview so far by the Hague prosecutors, although Syla was summoned.
Haliti slammed the Marty report as “political” when it was published, saying that it relied on sources that wanted to discredit the KLA.
The Kosovo authorities, including President Thaci, continue to deny that there is any evidence whatsoever behind the allegations in the report.
The Marty report also mentioned Shaip Muja, a former MP. It claimed that Muja had a “central role for more than a decade in far less laudable international networks, comprising human traffickers, brokers of illicit surgical procedures, and other perpetrators of organised crime”.
“Together with Haliti and Veseli, in particular, Muja became involved in finding innovative ways to make use of, and to invest, the millions of dollars of ‘war funds’ that had been donated to the KLA cause from overseas,” the report alleged.
Muja has not said that he has been summoned for interview by the Hague prosecutors
Marty’s report also accused KLA members Sabit Geci, Riza Alija and Xhemshit Krasniqi of being “responsible for the torture of civilian prisoners at Kukes [in Albania]”.
The report said that numerous indications confirmed that some Serbs and some Kosovo Albanians were held prisoner in secret detention facilities under KLA control in northern Albania and were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, before ultimately disappearing.
“During the period immediately after the end of the armed conflict organs were removed from some prisoners at a clinic in Albanian territory, near Fusha-Kruja, to be taken abroad for transplantation,” it claimed.
The report said the locations of the KLA-run detention facilities included the villages of Cahan and Bicaj in Albania’s Kukes municipality, and Burrel and Fusha-Kruja, where at least 40 people, mostly Kosovo Albanians civilians, were held.
Some of them were KLA recruits suspected of being traitors or believed to have belonged to or supported the KLA’s political and military rivals, especially the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK party and the emergent Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo, FARK. “Most of these captives were ultimately beaten and mistreated gratuitously by their captors, in what appeared to be measures of punishment, intimidation and terror,” the report said.
In 2011, a panel of judges from the EU’s rule-of-law mission in Kosovo, EULEX found Sabit Geci, Riza Alija and Xhemshit Krasniqi guilty of the inhuman treatment of civilians and war crimes against the civilian population, including the killing of a civilian in 1999 in the village of Cahan in Albania, Geci was jailed for 15 years, Alija for 12 years and Krasniqi for six years.
‘No one’s identity will remain secret’
So far, only two of the nine people mentioned by name in Marty’s report – Sabit Geci and Azem Syla – are known to have been invited for questioning by the Hague prosecutors.
It remains unclear which allegations from the report might be made in any forthcoming indictments.
The War Veterans’ Organisation said that more than half of people invited to be interviewed are considered to be suspects by the prosecutors, but no details about the cases or the nature of the allegations have been made public by those who have been summoned.
Sylejman Selimi and Azem Syla are the two most senior KLA commanders to have been called for interview by the Hague prosecutors, while the most senior current political figure was Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who resigned after being summoned in July. Haradinaj has already been acquitted of wartime crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
Nasim Haradinaj warned those who are invited to testify that no one can expect to have their identity kept completely secret.
“They probably will be kept secret from the public but not from those who will be potentially accused,” he said.
“Based on the law, everybody has the right to know who is testifying against them and to prepare a cross-examination with their defence counsel,” he added.
Witness security was one of the main issues why the Kosovo Specialist Chambers were located outside the country, in The Hague.
Difficulties in protecting witnesses dogged attempts by the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY and by international missions in Kosovo – the UN’s Kosovo mission UNMIK and the EU’s EULEX mission – to convict former KLA members accused of committing crimes during the Kosovo war.
Kosovo’s parliament adopted legislation to enable the establishment of the Specialist Chambers under pressure from the country’s Western allies and amid protesters by KLA veterans. In Kosovo, the new court is widely unpopular as it is seen as an attempt to discredit the KLA’s war for liberation from Serbian repression.
Time Kadrijaj, a former MP who served as doctor for KLA in western Kosovo during the war, was summoned last month for interview. She said that her first contact with the Hague prosecutors was enough to convince her that “this court will fail”.
“A tribunal created on an ethnic basis is an injustice. There were reports of Serbian officials who are trying to buy witnesses to testify, and it means there are no facts or proof but are only fabricated testimonies of alleged crimes in Kosovo,” Kadrijaj told BIRN.
“The fact that they have invited for questioning people who have done humanitarian work, like doctors, tells us that the mission of this court has been completely discredited,” she said.
BIRN contacted the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague but it declined to comment about the list of people invited for interview.