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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Kosovo war crimes court arrests first suspect

A commemorative wall dedicated to the victims of the Racak massacre [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 September, 2020

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A Hague-based international tribunal investigating war crimes committed against Kosovo's during 1990s have arrested their first suspect.
Prosecutors for a Hague-based international tribunal investigating war crimes committed during Kosovo's 1990s independence war have arrested their first suspect, the prosecutor's office said Thursday.

Salih Mustafa, a former senior commander in the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), is charged with murder, torture, arbitrary detention and cruel treatment, prosecutors at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers said.

Mustafa, 48, was arrested in Kosovo and transferred to the court based in the Dutch city, where he appeared before a judge and will now be detained, they said in a statement.

The 1998-9 conflict, which cost some 13,000 lives, pitted ethnic Albanian KLA guerrillas seeking independence for the southern Serbian province of Kosovo against Serbia's forces.

Mustafa is charged with crimes "against at least six people" at a detention compound in Zllash, Kosovo in April 1999, prosecutors said in a statement.

"Moreover, it is stated that one detainee was murdered at that location," it added.

The murdered prisoner was "singled out by certain KLA members and was beaten and tortured more severely than the other detainees", the indictment against him said.

The arrest comes months after the court indicted Kosovo President Hashim Thaci for his alleged role in nearly 100 murders during the 1998-89 conflict while he led the KLA.

Thaci was questioned but not formally arrested.

Mustafa, currently a civil staff officer in the defence ministry, was a KLA member known to have operated in north Kosovo.

Afterwards he led the intelligence service in the Kosovo Security Force, a lightly armed emergency force that emerged from the demilitarised KLA.

The Kosovo war ended when the Serbs withdrew after an 11-week NATO bombing campaign,

But tensions remain to this day, with the the US and most of the West recognising Kosovo, while Belgrade and its allies Russia and China do not.

The EU-backed tribunal was established in 2015 to investigate alleged war crimes by the KLA.

In recent weeks Kosovo war veterans say they have been leaked several batches of confidential files from the court, in what appears to be a security breach exposing protected witnesses.

The prosecutor's office said on Wednesday that the leaks were "aimed at undermining the proper administration of justice" and vowed to prosecute those behind the leaks.

The matter is highly sensitive in Kosovo, where former rebel commanders still dominate political life. 

The court documents include information about witnesses whose identities are meant to be protected to shield them from retribution.

The tribunal operates under Kosovo law but was itself located in the Netherlands to protect witnesses.

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