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Witness Says Haradinaj Clashed with KLA Rivals

Protected witness at Haradinaj trial tells court his rebel group was beaten by the accused and his men in summer 1998.
By Lisa Clifford
A soldier from the rebel Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo, FARK, claimed this week that Ramush Haradinaj tried to kill him during a violent clash near the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, commander’s Dukagjin headquarters.

The man, a prosecution witness testifying under protective measures, told the Hague tribunal that he and three fellow FARK soldiers were also badly beaten by Haradinaj’s co-defendant Idriz Balaj.

Haradinaj, Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj are charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Kosovo from March to September 1998. They are accused of unlawfully removing and mistreating Serb civilians and the mistreatment of other civilians perceived to be collaborating with Serbian forces in the western Dukagjin region of Kosovo.

Prosecutors say Haradinaj - the former prime minister of Kosovo - was one of the KLA’s most senior leaders with overall command of the Dukagjin zone. Balaj was allegedly Haradinaj’s subordinate and in charge of the Black Eagles special unit, while Brahimaj acted as deputy commander in Dukagjin.

The witness told the court he was an ordinary soldier in FARK - an Albania-based rebel group that first cooperated with, and then fell out with, the KLA.

He said he entered Kosovo with around 150 other FARK members on June 26, 1998, and several days later was sent back to the Albanian border to collect weapons.

En route, the group encountered KLA soldiers - including Balaj - in the town of Rznic/Irzniq and were ordered to accompany the men to Haradinaj’s nearby Glodane/Gllogjan headquarters. When they resisted, he said Balaj fired his pistol five or six times in the air.

“It was a very bad moment,” said the witness.

Haradinaj was there when they arrived at Glodane/Gllogjan and initially appeared friendly. He told the court that he knew the KLA leader from their childhood days and described them as being “friends and neighbours”.

He alleges the mood soon changed, and Haradinaj attacked one of the FARK soldiers, leaving his face covered in blood. Up to 30 other soldiers, including Balaj and Haradinaj’s brother Daut, joined in, he said, hitting all the FARK men with pistols and rifle butts. “They used them as sticks to beat us,” he said.

During the attack, Haradinaj jumped on the witness from behind and aimed his pistol at his neck. However, the shot went astray and hit the witnesses’ arm instead. “I didn’t understand at the time that the bullet had hit me. I was receiving other blows, and my whole body was in pain,” he said.

The attack ended as suddenly as it started. Haradinaj told the witness he had “two minutes to leave the village of Glodane” – and he fled back to FARK command about two kilometres away.

The encounter in Glodane wasn’t the first clash between the KLA and the newly-arrived FARK soldiers, according to the witness. Several days earlier, Haradinaj came to the village of Jasic where the FARK brigade were initially headquartered and told them to leave. He told the soldiers they weren’t welcome and that Kosovo didn’t need them.

“We thought they would cooperate with us. It was completely the opposite of what we expected,” the witness told the court, adding he was told that Haradinaj had threatened to kill the FARK soldiers if they didn’t leave.

“What I understood is that they would fight us, and if they had time they would fight the enemy,” he said.

During the cross examination, Haradinaj’s lawyer Ben Emmerson told the judges that the witnesses’ statement was “deliberate lies”.

He said the man was wounded during an encounter with KLA members at a checkpoint near Glodane. Emmerson said Haradinaj apologised to the FARK commander the following day for the behaviour of the soldiers. The witness confirmed the apology but insisted it was for Haradinaj’s actions and not that of his troops.

The man testified at The Hague this week with his voice distorted and face concealed. He has been forced to leave Kosovo because of fears for his safety and that of his family members, with judges saying he has been threatened and his property damaged.

Prosecutors say they have had difficulty finding enough witnesses to testify in the face of widespread intimidation. The defence, however, claims there is no case against the three men and that Haradinaj is on trial to show the tribunal treats both sides of the Kosovo conflict equally.

The week’s other witness was Bislim Zyrapi, the KLA’s chief of main staff, who said Haradinaj was commander of the Dukagjin zone in July 1998. Emmerson argued, however, that his client did not have control over the entire zone and tried to play down Haradinaj’s command role.

Lisa Clifford is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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