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

Witness Tells of Expulsion by KLA

Haradinaj trial hears testimony from a woman who says her family was driven from their homes and abused.
By Caroline Tosh
A witness told the trial of Kosovo’s former prime minister this week that she and her family were expelled from their home by Kosovo Albanian paramilitaries in May 1998.

The Roma woman also said her close relatives were abused and her family was lined up to be shot by the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

The testimony given by this anonymous witness at times contradicted the evidence given by a previous prosecution witness in the same trial before the Hague tribunal.

“Witness 58”, the sister-in-law of “Witness 38” who testified last week, was giving evidence in the trial of Ramush Haradinaj and his co-accused Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj. Like her relative, she appeared under protective measures, using a pseudonym as well as voice and face distortion technology.

The trial began on March 5 and is the second case involving KLA members at the Hague tribunal.

The first ended in November 2005 with the acquittal of former KLA commanders Fatmir Limaj and Isak Musliu due to a lack of evidence linking them to the murder and torture of Serbs and suspected Albanian collaborators at a KLA prison camp in 1998. The third accused, former LKA footsoldier Haradin Bala, was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

In his opening statement last week, Haradinaj’s defence counsel, Ben Emmerson, attacked the prosecution’s case and argued that the indictment was “little more than a patchwork of individual allegations against Mr Haradinaj’s co-accused, tenuously stitched together with the evidence of a tiny handful of witnesses”.

Chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte admitted in her opening statement that the prosecution would “not have an easy task” proving the case.

A particular problem, she said, was the reluctance of witnesses to testify against KLA officers due to intimidation – which the prosecution says is a major problem in Kosovo.

The three defendants are charged with crimes allegedly committed between March 1, 1998 and September 30 that year, including “the unlawful removal and mistreatment of Serb civilians” and the mistreatment of other civilians perceived to be collaborating with Serbian forces.

The indictment states that “on 28 May 1998, three armed KLA soldiers came to the home of [Witness 38] in Junik and forced the witness and [her] family and neighbours to leave their house and join a convoy of civilians leaving Junik in the direction of the Albanian border”.

It alleges that the group’s members were taken to an old mill in the hamlet of Gacifer, where they were detained, and that Haradinaj arrived half an hour later.

A KLA soldier allegedly told him the witness had information about the Serbian police, MUP. Haradinaj then ordered KLA members to search Witness 38 and her family and obtain information from her using force if necessary, before leaving the scene, according to the indictment.

The document also says that while the family was at the mill, members of the KLA beat Witness 38’s father, forced her to strip, threatened to kill them both and tied them together with barbed wire.

It further alleges that over the next two days, as the group was taken to the KLA headquarters in Djoci, soldiers mistreated them and sexually assaulted Witness 38’s sister.

When they arrived at Djoci, “KLA soldiers lined up members of the group at the edge of a ravine in order to shoot them” and they only escaped execution after running away following the invention of an outsider, the indictment says.

This week, Witness 58 told judges that in May 1998, she and her two daughters were expelled from her home in Ponosevac, and that they were forced to leave her sister’s home in Junik later that month by the KLA. She said they were persecuted because her sister-in-law worked for Serbs, she said.

The witness said that after members of the KLA came into the apartment in Junik and ordered them to leave, she went to the mill with her family - which included her two children, her two sisters-in-law and her father and mother-in-law.

However, it was not clear from her testimony whether they were forced to go there or went voluntarily.

At the mill, she said, there were several KLA members who encircled the family and demanded to search them.

One of them shouted at her father and tried to rape her younger sister-in-law, she told judges.

Prosecutor David Re and presiding Judge Alphons Orie asked the witness to elaborate on what happened during this particular incident. The witness did not answer, and instead repeatedly insisted, “I didn’t allow him to rape her. He attempted, but I didn’t let him.”

Last week, her sister-in-law, Witness 38, testified that she was forced to strip while at the mill and then remained naked for two days. Witness 58 was asked whether she had seen her sister-in-law undressed at any point but was unable to confirm this.

"I wasn't paying attention. I was looking after my children,” she said.

The prosecutor asked whether she was afraid of the KLA.

"Yes, by God I was," she replied.

She told judges that the family stayed at the mill from eight that morning until later that day, before leaving for the Mount Jasic where they spent the night without food or water.

The following day, she said, the family walked to a building in Djoci where there were a lot of KLA members outside, as well as civilians from other villages.

When asked by the prosecutor how she knew the men at Djoci belonged to the KLA, she said: “You could recognise them. They spoke Albanian and had KLA insignia.”

According to the witness, these men lined her family up at the side of the road and pointed their weapons at them.

“They told us, ‘We want to kill you - all of you… because you work with the Serbs’,” she said.

But a civilian from the village of Istok intervened to stop this happened, she said, and the family then left, and headed for the mountains.

In cross-examination, Emmerson suggested that the witness’s family had sought refuge at the mill voluntarily, rather than being ordered to go there by the KLA. But the woman denied this, saying, “No, they told us that we had to leave and we did so – they were shooting, the windows were broken and we left. They forced us to leave.”

The defence counsel then asked whether she was close enough to Witness 38 to be able to talk to her when they were in the mountains, to which she replied, “Yes, we were together in the mountain.” He suggested that if the woman’s sister in law had been forced to strip and remained naked for two days – as claimed in the earlier testimony –Witness 58 would have seen this.

“If you were there close enough to talk to your elder sister in law, you would have noticed if she was completely naked,” he said.

But the witness insisted, “I didn’t see whether she had her clothes on. I apologise, but I was looking after my children.”

Emmerson also attempted to undermine the witness’s credibility by suggesting it was unlikely that KLA members would decide not to shoot her family on the basis of “an unnamed civilian simply saying to them that they should not do it”.

Caroline Tosh is an IWPR reporter.

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