The Kosovo Specialist Chambers operates under Kosovo law but is based in the Netherlands to shield witnesses from intimidation in Kosovo – Copyright ANP/AFP/File Eva Plevier
A war crimes court in The Hague will on Wednesday deliver its verdict on two former separatist fighters from Kosovo’s 1990s independence war against Serbia, who are accused of intimidating witnesses.
Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj, the head and the deputy head of a group of Kosovan veterans of the conflict, are accused of releasing details from classified files that they said they had received from the court.
Gucati and Haradinaj were arrested by heavily armed EU police in a raid on the veterans’ headquarters Pristina in September 2020, and sent to the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in the Netherlands for trial.
Both have pleaded not guilty in the trial, which started in October last year.
The court has issued war crimes charges against several senior members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group that waged a 1998-99 independence struggle against Serbia.
They include Kosovo’s former president Hashim Thaci, who resigned after being indicted.
The court says Gucati and Haradinaj revealed protected information from the court, including details that could identify witnesses, during three press conferences between September 7 and 25, 2020.
They are charged with two counts of obstructing officials and four other counts of “intimidation during criminal proceedings, retaliation and violating the secrecy of proceedings,” the court said in a statement.
– ‘Criminally responsible’ –
The veterans association said it had received anonymous packages of the court’s confidential files including information about protected witnesses and upcoming indictments.
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers operates under Kosovo law but is based in the Netherlands to shield witnesses from intimidation in Kosovo, where former KLA commanders have long dominated political life.
The court is investigating claims that the Kosovo rebels waged a campaign of revenge attacks on Serbs, Roma and ethnic Albanian rivals during and after the war.
Thaci — the rebels’ former political chief — was accused by prosecutors of being “criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders”.
He pleaded not guilty when he appeared in court in November 2020.
Another former commander, Salih Mustafa, compared the court to Nazi Germany’s Gestapo secret police when he appeared in the dock in September last year.
Many KLA veterans fiercely oppose the tribunal’s mandate, defending their “just” liberation war against Belgrade’s oppression of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian population.
The conflict left 13,000 people dead, mainly ethnic Albanians, and saw several top Serbian politicians and generals later jailed for war crimes.
Tensions between Belgrade and Pristina have remained high.
Serbia as well as its powerful allies China and Russia still do not recognise Kosovo’s 2008 independence declaration, which has been recognised by more than 100 countries.