Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Former KLA Commanders Go on Trial

By Caroline Tosh (TU No 492, 9-Mar-07)
By IWPR
Haradinaj, one of the most senior KLA leaders, is on trial with his subordinates – former KLA commanders Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj.



The three face 37 charges including crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war, for atrocities allegedly committed between March 1, 1998 and September 30, 1998, during the Kosovo conflict.



They are charged with taking part in a joint criminal enterprise to gain total control of the Dukagjin area in western Kosovo by “the unlawful removal and mistreatment of Serb civilians” and the mistreatment of other civilians perceived to be collaborating with Serbian forces “or otherwise not supporting the KLA”.



At the opening of their trial on March 5, the Hague tribunal’s chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte said prosecutors would not have an easy task in proving the charges.



Witness intimidation was a major obstacle in the trial, and left many reluctant to come and testify, she said.



On March 7, judges dismissed the prosecution’s application to remove the powers of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, to monitor Haradinaj’s political activities.



The prosecution had lodged this urgent motion in response to a request by Haradinaj to engage in a public appearance with an UNMIK official.



It argued there was a conflict of interest in UNMIK judging Haradinaj’s ability to engage in activities in which it too was involved, and also said that such an appearance might act as a deterrent to prosecution witnesses.



In their written decision dismissing the motion, judges said that the prosecution “has provided no concrete evidence that the past or future political activities of the accused have acted or will act as a deterrent for potential prosecution witnesses”.



This week, senior trial attorney David Re outlined the prosecution case against the men, who he claims were "the most prominent participants in the joint criminal enterprise" aimed at establishing total KLA control over western Kosovo.



Haradinaj’s defence counsel, Ben Emmerson, said the charges against his client were not substantiated, and attacked the use of the concept of joint criminal enterprise - which he said had been stretched to make Haradinaj responsible for "the crimes of all armed Albanians in western Kosovo".



The trial chamber then heard from prosecution witness Marijana Andjelkovic – an investigator for the Humanitarian Law Centre, an NGO in Belgrade.



She testified that in the spring of 1998, she visited several villages in western Kosovo and talked to Serbs, Montenegrins and Roma who said armed Albanians had attacked them.



The trial continues next week.