Kosovo: former KLA commander appears for war crimes

Salih Mustafa has been brought before the Special Court in The Hague, whose task is complicated because former members of the Kosovar forces are seen in Pristina as heroes in the war for independence against Serbia.

Salih Mustafa is the first ex-commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) to appear before the special tribunal for Kosovo. Arrested on September 24 in Pristina and immediately transferred and imprisoned in The Hague, the Netherlands, where the tribunal sits, he is being prosecuted for war crimes committed in 1999. From his first appearance on Monday, his Dutch lawyer, Julius von Boné, warned: “If we are sitting here, it does not mean that the defense accepts the establishment of this tribunal. “ Created by the European Union at the instigation of the United States, in 2015, this tribunal was adopted backwards by the parliament in Pristina and remains today widely contested.

A La Haye, when the French judge Nicolas Guillou, dressed in the robe of Kosovar magistrates, asked Salih Mustafa to disclose his identity, the ex-combatant explained that he was “an adviser to the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Kosovo ”. But more than twenty years ago, “Commander Cali”, by his nom de guerre, was fighting at the head of a battalion deployed in northeastern Kosovo, close to what would become the border with Serbia. The conflict between the Serbian forces of Slobodan Milosevic and the KLA independence guerrillas had left nearly 13,000 dead and ended following NATO intervention and an intense bombing campaign.

Intimidation of witnesses

Salih Mustafa was then 27 years old. According to his indictment, it was under his orders that at least six prisoners were held in a stable in the village of Zllash in April 1999, before being tortured and “beaten with various instruments”. burned, threatened with death and forced to confess. One of them would not have survived. Masked lips – Covid-19 obliges -, Salih Mustafa displayed a defiant smile on reading the charges, then asked for time before saying whether or not he pleads guilty, or not, to war crimes for arbitrary detention, torture, murder, and cruel treatment of which he is accused.

The creation of this tribunal was decided after the publication of a report by Swiss Senator Dick Marty, in 2010, himself launched after the revelations of the former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Carla del Ponte, who denounced acts of organ trafficking. But the indictment against Salih Mustafa does not mention it. As for the ICTY, it had prosecuted some Kosovar officials for war crimes. Among them is ex-prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, who will ultimately be acquitted. During her trial, Carla del Ponte denounced the intimidation of witnesses in Kosovo where “the problem is widespread, systematic and potentially deadly”. And the Kosovo Tribunal will not have escaped pressure on witnesses.