REGIONAL REPORT: Kosovo: KLA Veteran Under Investigation

International police in Kosovo arrest a former KLA commander on suspicion of kidnapping and attempted murder

REGIONAL REPORT: Kosovo: KLA Veteran Under Investigation

International police in Kosovo arrest a former KLA commander on suspicion of kidnapping and attempted murder

Saturday, 1 December, 2001

Gani Imeri, a former commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, has become the first of the now disbanded organisation's veterans to be arrested on suspicion of involvement in serious crimes against Kosovo Serb civilians during and after the war.

Imeri was arrested on November 24 while travelling from Vucitrn to Pristina in connection with the alleged abduction of five Kosovo Serbs from Gojbulja, near Vucitrn, and the attempted murder of one of them. The five villagers, all related, were allegedly kidnapped on June 25, 1999, 13 days after NATO troops moved into Kosovo.

Imeri is now in detention in Mitrovica pending further investigation. It is not clear what charges, if any, may result from the inquiry or whether others could face arrest.

Tome Gashi, the lawyer representing Imeri, claims the international prosecutor is pushing the case for "political reasons".

Gashi said Imeri had come under suspicion on the basis of an alleged phone conversation in which his client reportedly confessed to the crimes. Imeri denies the conversation ever took place.

"This case has been set up by the international administration in an effort to fulfil promises given to Belgrade," said Gashi, referring to an agreement signed on November 5 by Hans Haekkerup, head of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, and Nebojsa Covic, Serbian deputy prime minister and Belgrade's special representative to Kosovo.

Gashi, however, admitted Imeri has been under investigation for some months and had attended investigative interviews before November 5. The international police confirmed Imeri had been questioned over the case several times in recent months.

The November 5 agreement, while addressing issues relating to the security of Serbs in Kosovo, "reiterates the commitment to resolving the fate of Serb missing persons". Belgrade has previously criticised UNMIK for not doing enough to find out what happened to them.

Out of all of Kosovo's communities, around 4,000 persons are thought to be unaccounted for. The number of the disappeared varies according to sources. The Yugoslav authorities claim around 1,000 Serbs vanished, while Kosovo's Council for Human Rights and Freedoms claims the figure is no more than 400.

The international police request for the Imeri investigation says there is a "well founded suspicion" that he kidnapped Nenad Mihajlovic, Aleksander Mihajlovic, Branimir Mihajlovic, Vladimir Mihajlovic and Vladan Mladenovic. It said he attempted to murder Nenad Mihajlovic.

The five victims are understood to be in close contact with the international police and investigators.

So far, the international police and Matty Hynyen, the Finnish international prosecutor, have not provided the defence with material proof of Imeri's responsibility for the abductions and the attempted murder.

But Western investigative judge Leonard Assiria claims there is sufficient proof to charge Imeri - charges are expected to follow.

According to information released by the prosecutor, a Serb woman, Roksana Radosavlevic, is positive Imeri admitted to her, during a phone conversation, that he abducted the victims. The relationship between Radosavlevic and Imeri is still unclear, and according to Gashi, it will be very difficult to prove this conversation took place unless the international police and investigators have it on tape.

Gashi's claims of a political motive for the investigation are supported by the Kosovo media. On November 28, the daily newspaper Zeri focused on the alleged telephone confession, questioning whether Imeri would make such a statement to a Serb woman he allegedly did not know. The majority of the Kosovo press, however, have not displayed great interest in this case.

Imeri joined the KLA after having spent 14 years in Germany in exile. He became a commander in the Vucitrn area during the war and following the end of the Kosovo conflict was assigned to command the 343 brigade of the Kosovo Protection Corps, a civilian structure set up from the ranks of the former KLA.

The timing of the alleged crime suggests it is unlikely to qualify as a war crime, given it occurred after the official end of the conflict and following the creation of the international administration.

Avni Zogiani is a journalist with Koha Ditore and a member of IWPR's war crimes reporting network.

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