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

Kosovar Deputy Takes the Stand

Defiant KLA veteran defends “liquidation” of suspected traitors and Serb collaborators.

Urbane Kosovar parliamentarian Jakup Krasniqi has become the latest in a string of unwilling Kosovo Liberation Army veterans forced to testify against their former colleagues in The Hague.

He arrived in court this week subject to a subpoena, carrying a stack of paperwork that he hoped might go towards vindicating the three accused.

“Even today I believe that the KLA ... did not commit the crimes for which it is accused,” he told the court. “And I don’t see any reason for its members to be here in the dock.”

He was speaking at the trial of Fatmir Limaj, Isak Musliu and Haradin Bala, who are charged with running a brutal prison camp in the village of Lapusnik from May to July 1998, where Serbs and suspected Albanian collaborators were starved, beaten and murdered.

A former KLA spokesperson who is now a senior figure in the Democratic Party of Kosova, PDK, Krasniqi appeared every bit the seasoned public speaker.

And the sharply-dressed and confident witness seized several opportunities to air his talents in support of his former comrades, claiming the evidence against them was politically motivated.

However, the prosecutors will have been grimly satisfied to hear his unflinching defence of the fact that, from as early as 1997 and through the period referred to in the indictment, the KLA led a campaign to “liquidate” Albanians who were suspected of collaborating with the Belgrade regime.

Prosecutors spent a large part of the February 10 session presenting the witness with a series of KLA communiques published in the Albanian language press from late 1997. In these, the Albanian rebels claimed credit for attacks not just on Serb forces but also on Albanians who were said to have been working for them.

In one such document, from March 1998, prosecution lawyers had highlighted and blown up a single sentence, “Death to enemies and traitors.”

Putting on his glasses to pore through the communiques, Krasniqi argued that they had been produced at the time as propaganda and have no place in a court of law as evidence of what was happening on the ground.

But he railed against the kind of “collaborators” they referred to.

“[The Serb regime] couldn’t function in Kosovo only through its police and soldiers,” he told the court. “[Its] apparatus extended its tentacles to all [areas] of public administration. They ruled in Kosovo with the help of collaborators, the people who served the police and soldiers.”

And he told the court that the KLA had dealt with traitors as it saw fit.

“The KLA constantly warned [these] people to withdraw from such activities and not to undermine the liberation war. In cases when such persons did great damage to the Albanian people... the operational wing of the KLA killed [them],” he said.

“Such people did not deserve a better fate for serving the most criminal regime seen in Europe since the Second World War.”

When prosecutors asked Krasniqi how it was determined who was a collaborator, he expressed conviction that all those killed were guilty, insisting, “Even the children were well aware of that [fact] in the villages where they lived.” But he confirmed that it hadn’t been an option at the time to put them on trial.

Prosecutors claim many people who were in fact opposed to the Serb regime were labelled “collaborators” simply because they had business dealings or social contact with ethnic Serbs.

Krasniqi protested that this aspect of the KLA’s activities should not be given undue weight.

“To try to [paint] the KLA as an army that fought against the Albanians and not the Belgrade regime does not serve the truth and has nothing to do with the truth,” he told the court.

But, notwithstanding his reluctance to incriminate his former comrades, it seems Krasniqi’s testimony so far may have strengthened the case against them.

The existence of a wider campaign against suspected traitors can only make the story told in the indictment seem more plausible. It will also help to show that any crimes that did take place in Lapusnik were part of a “widespread or systematic” attack on the civilian population – a necessary condition if the accused are to be found guilty of crimes against humanity.

Krasniqi also spoke about the history of the KLA, confirming the prosecution’s story that the organisation broke with the mainstream Democratic League of Kosovo in the mid-Nineties because of frustration with its tactic of passive resistance. Prosecutors hope to prove that some KLA kidnappings of Albanian “collaborators” were in fact linked to political disputes.

The witness also confirmed the – now relatively uncontroversial – fact that by 1998 the KLA had a general staff and a system of operational zones. In order to bring war crimes charges to bear, prosecutors must show that the movement the Belgrade government was fighting in mid-1998 was, at least in a broad sense, an “organised armed force”.

Krasniqi’s testimony is set to continue next week, when counsel for the accused will also have a chance to put questions to the witness.

Michael Farquhar is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.