Kosovo War Crimes Court Starts First Case In The Hague

PRISTINA — The first case at a special court investigating alleged atrocities by ethnic Albanian separatists during the 1998-99 Kosovo War kicks off in the Netherlands on September 15.

Salih Mustafa, a commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), faces charges of murder, torture, cruel treatment, and arbitrary detention allegedly committed in April 1999 against prisoners held in the village of Zllash, east of the capital, Pristina.

The 49-year-old Mustafa has pleaded not guilty.

He was arrested last year while working as an adviser at Kosovo’s Defense Ministry.

The case is the first to go to trial at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, which was established in The Hague in 2015 to probe allegations that members of the UCK committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war between ethnic Albanian rebels and Serbian forces.

The EU-backed court operates under Kosovar law but is based in the Netherlands to shield witnesses from intimidation.

At the September 15 session, the presiding judge is to read out the indictment to Mustafa, who will be asked whether he wishes to confirm his earlier plea, the court said in a statement.

It said prosecutors will have three hours to deliver their opening statement, while lawyers for victims will have 90 minutes to speak.

Several hearings are scheduled during September and October, during which the prosecution intends to call 16 witnesses.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nearly a decade after a 78-day NATO air campaign drove Serbian troops out and an international peacekeeping force moved in.

The conflict left more than 10,000 people dead — most of them ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. More than 1,600 people remain unaccounted for.

Kosovo, which has a largely ethnic Albanian population, is recognized by many Western states but not Serbia or its allies Russia and China.

With reporting by AFP