Prosecutors say Kosovar ex-guerrilla leaders on trial for war crimes
PRISTINA: Prosecutors are seeking to restrict visits to three former Kosovo Liberation Army leaders who are on trial in The Hague for war crimes because they allegedly tried to manipulate witnesses and leak confidential testimony. Former Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, Parliament ex-speaker Kadri Veseli and former lawmaker Rexhep Selimi were all top leaders of the KLA which waged Kosovo’s 1998-99 war for independence from Serbia and are now on trial in the Hague. A document seen by the Associated Press on Thursday showed that prosecutors from the Kosovo Specialist Chambers — a branch of the Kosovo legal system that was set up at The Hague in part due to fears about witness safety and security — had found that individuals visiting the three defendants had later approached protected witnesses “attempting to prevent or influence their testimony.” Prosecutors have asked that all visits be restricted except those from family members which will be recorded. They’re also seeking to restrict phone calls and written communication and that the defendants be segregated from other inmates. The restrictions are necessary to prevent any attempts to interfere with witnesses, obstruct or leak their testimony and “further threats to the integrity of the proceedings,” according to the prosecutors. The three defendants have been in custody since November 2020. Charges against them include murder, torture and persecution allegedly committed across Kosovo and northern Albania from 1998 to September 1999, during and after the war. The court in The Hague was set up after a 2011 Council of Europe report that alleged KLA fighters trafficked human organs taken from prisoners as well as dead Serbs and fellow ethnic Albanians. The organ harvesting allegations weren’t included in the indictment against Thaci. Most of the 13,000 people who died in the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo were ethnic Albanians. A 78-day campaign of NATO air strikes against Serbian forces ended the fighting. About 1 million ethnic Albanian Kosovars were driven from their homes. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence.