Thursday, August 5

Kosovo may try to move war crimes tribunal to Pristina, judge warns

The head of a Netherlands-based court investigating war crimes allegedly committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during its conflict with Serbian forces two decades ago has urged EU diplomats to help fight a campaign to undermine their work in Kosovo.

At a confidential briefing for European diplomats in The Hague on February 11, the president of the Kosovo Chambers of Specialists, Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova, warned that the court is facing increased efforts from Kosovo to obstruct ongoing legal proceedings, even against the former president of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, who was indicted for war crimes last year.

In a transcript of the report, obtained by Euronews, Trendafilova said that attempts were already being made to challenge the law the court established in 2015, and could include efforts to pardon those convicted of crimes or even see the entire court, and their Vast confidential records: moved from The Hague, where it is currently located, to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.

“This will certainly put the life, safety and protection of the people who have or will be willing to cooperate with us at stake. Undoubtedly, such changes would have a paralyzing effect on the witnesses, who may no longer want to appear, making it impossible for the Special Prosecutor to continue with their cases, ”said Trendafilova.

Trendafilova, who is Bulgarian, also warned of the safety of the witnesses appearing for the prosecution in the ongoing cases, and urged European nations to consider “comprehensive cooperation agreements” that could lead to witnesses and their families relocating. to Europe.

“Without these agreements, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, in some cases to guarantee that testimony can be given freely and without any fear,” Trendafilova said.

The court indicted Thaci and the former speaker of the Kosovo parliament, Kadri Veseli, of war crimes in October, along with two other former KLA militants.

Both men were senior commanders during 1998 and 1999 when the NATO-backed KLA fought against Yugoslav army units and Serbian paramilitaries after a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign in which hundreds of thousands of Kosovars were forced from their homes and thousands were murdered.

In the indictment against Thaci, Veseli and two other individuals are alleged to have been responsible for atrocities committed against Serbs and other minorities, as well as ethnic Albanians accused of collaborating with Serbian forces. All the men deny the charges against them.

A spokesperson for the Kosovo Chambers of Specialists told Euronews that the briefing was confidential and that the transcript had been accidentally distributed and was intended for the internal use of diplomatic missions. It is unclear how many people received the transcript.

Old guard

Thaci and Veseli’s accusations, and the court’s work in general, have been controversial since it was created in 2015 by a law of the Kosovar parliament.

Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, has been largely led by politicians who were former KLA fighters, including Thaci, who served two terms as president.

Even those who are not old-guard friends of Kosovar politicians, like Albin Kurti, the leader of the Vetevensdosje movement. they have criticized the court. Kurti has called for war crimes charges to be heard in local courts and not in The Hague, where the Kosovo Chambers of Specialists are located.

Unlike the International Tribunal for Crimes in the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which investigated war crime abuses in the Balkans after the wars of the 1990s, Kurti: who will likely be the next prime minister of Kosovo after Sunday’s elections – said the Hague-based court had singled out the KLA.

Euronews has contacted a Kurti spokesperson and the Kosovo Ministry of Justice for comment.

Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic was indicted for war crimes by the ICTY along with seven other Serbian military and political figures after the war in Kosovo. Six were convicted and sentenced to between 15 and 27 years in prison and one was acquitted. Milosevic died during his trial in 2006 for crimes committed in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia also indicted a number of former KLA leaders for war crimes, some of whom had risen to senior positions within the Kosovo government.

In 2005, after being prime minister for only 100 days, the former KLA commander for West Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), resigned and surrendered to The Hague.

Haradinaj was found not guilty in 2008, tried again in 2011 and again acquitted.

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