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Radonjic Lake Killings Revisited

Haradinaj defence team challenges prosecution claim that victims found in 1998 were killed by KLA troops.
By Brendan McKenna
Lawyers for Ramush Haradinaj this week sought to sow doubt about prosecution claims that the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, was responsible for killing 32 people whose bodies were found in a canal near a lake in the ethnic Albanian province.

Haradinaj, who resigned as prime minister of Kosovo in March 2005 when he learned of his indictment on war crimes charges by the Hague tribunal, is on trial as the regional commander of KLA forces who allegedly committed numerous crimes, including torture, rape and murder.

The prosecution says that the Radonjic lake canal was a favourite execution site in early 1998 of the KLA’s feared “Black Eagles” special unit which was under the command of Haradinaj’s deputy and co-defendant Idriz Balaj.

The canal area was under KLA control until Serbian forces launched a counteroffensive and temporarily retook it in late August and early September 1998.

Before being driven out by KLA forces, a Serbian forensic team recovered nearly 40 bodies in and around the area. Prosecutors say that cartridges and ammunition recovered at the canal match the “make and identity” of those used by Haradinaj’s KLA forces.

This week, Haradinaj’s lead counsel Ben Emmerson sought to undermine the prosecution conclusion that the bodies were of victims killed by KLA forces.

During his cross examination of Branko Gajic, a retired general in the Yugoslav army, Emmerson tried to show that Serbian forces had also been active around the Radonjić canal and that they might have been responsible for the killings.

Gaijic told the court that the Serbian 52nd military police battalion had deployed combat groups of 30 to 40 men around the south, east and west sides of the lake several times in an attempt to ambush KLA forces.

However, Gaijic, who is also an intelligence analyst, “categorically” stated he had seen no reports from ministry of internal affairs on police or paramilitary units committing crimes in the area - though later questioning established that the lack of reports did not necessarily prove that Serbian forces committed no crimes.

Emmerson’s questioning of Gaijic tied in with his questions to forensic experts in previous weeks in which he suggested that bullet holes on the sides of the wall of the canal could have come from a firefight between KLA and Serbian forces.

The cross examination also established that at least one of the victims whose body was found at the canal had been killed elsewhere and subsequently dumped near the lake.

Haradinaj has a spot on the ballot for elections in Kosovo in November as the head of the political party he founded, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo.

The Kosovo constitution bans people who have been sentenced by the tribunal or those who are not cooperating with the tribunal from taking part in elections. However, those who are cooperating and have not been found guilty are free to seek office, even from prison.

Because of Haradinaj’s prominence, the prosecution is especially concerned about a climate of fear and intimidation that could hamper their efforts to get witnesses to testify against him, and his co-accused Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj.

Those concerns prompted severe restrictions on Haradinaj’s conduct when he returned to Kosovo for four days at the beginning of October to attend the funeral of his 11-year-old nephew, who was killed in a traffic accident.

He was ordered to remain at his home in Glodjane for the entirety of his visit and permitted to leave only for the funeral. The former prime minister was banned from any contact with the media, from political activity and from making any public comments, with the exception of a “short speech of purely private and personal nature” to those attending the funeral, according to the tribunal’s documents.

Brendan McKenna is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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