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Kosovo Guerrilla Leaders ‘Didn’t Directly Control Fighters’: Witness

Former Kosovo Liberation Army area commander Rrustem Mustafa told the trial of Hashim Thaci and other wartime guerrilla leaders in The Hague that contrary to prosecution claims, the KLA did not have a fully-established chain of command during the war.

Rrustem Mustafa, former commander of Kosovo Liberation Army’s wartime Llap Operational Zone, also known by the nom de guerre Remi, told the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague this week in the trial of former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and three co-defendants that the guerrilla force mainly functioned from the bottom up and did not have a fully-established chain of command.

“We did not reach the point of having an army that would have been led by the general staff, by politicians and civilians; we were the ones asked at all times about matters,” Mustafa told the court on Friday.

“The war ended before the general staff acquired the level of a respected hierarchy needed to issue orders to the zone commanders,” he claimed.

Mustafa explained that during the war, the orders from the general staff were “interpreted as suggestions from us [operational zone commanders], we believed we knew the situation on the ground better than the general staff”.

The prosecution is seeking to prove that Thaci and his three co-defendants, Kadri Veseli, Rexhep Selimi, and Jakup Krasniqi, who are on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, were responsible as senior KLA officers for crimes committed by their subordinates.

The four defendants are on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, allegedly committed between at least March 1998 and September 1999, during and just after the war with Serbian forces.

They are accused of having individual and command responsibility for crimes that were mainly committed against prisoners held at KLA detention facilities in Kosovo and neighbouring Albania, including 102 murders. They have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Responding to questioning by Thaci’s defence lawyer Luka Misetic on Friday, witness Mustafa claimed that he had at one point become a member of the KLA’s general staff himself but had decided to leave because of lack of resources and direct involvement with the situation on the ground.

According to Mustafa, many KLA communiques were issued during the war that were aimed at portraying the guerrilla force as having more resources and structure on the ground than it did in reality.

“The communiques contained a dose of propaganda,” Mustafa told the court on Wednesday.

He made a similar claim on Tuesday. Referring to a document dated December 23, 1998 that had the word ‘secret’ in it, Mustafa told the court: “I think it was not secret at all, our purpose was to probably make this statement public. We wanted to portray ourselves as a functional army.”

Asked by prosecutor Clare Lawson on Wednesday about the detainees against whom crimes were allegedly committed, Mustafa explained that they were “people who opposed rules of war, the ethnicity of them did not matter to us, Serbs or Albanians, they were citizens of the country… people who were against the [KLA’s] mission for freedom or caused disruption.”

Mustafa himself was found guilty in 2013 of torturing prisoners at a wartime KLA detention centre and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, a conviction that confirmed on appeal. In 2019, he was hired by Thaci as a political adviser.

However, when questioned by prosecutor Lawson, on Thursday, Mustafa told the court that “there was no system of beating or murder while they [the detainees] were under our command”.

But he added that he could not rule out that some of his fighters could have physically assaulted the detainees, especially if they had not obeyed orders, or while they were being brought to the detention centre, “but when they arrived at the detention facilities, they were well looked after”.

During the trial, the prosecution has been seeking to prove the importance of the KLA’s chain of command as well as the defendants’ knowledge of what was happening on the ground. The defence is seeking to highlight that the KLA did not have a rigid military structure so the defendants could not have been responsible for crimes committed by guerrillas.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers were set up in 2015 by the Kosovo parliament, acting under pressure from Kosovo’s Western allies, who believed that Kosovo’s own justice system was not robust enough to try KLA cases and protect witnesses from intimidation. Previous trials at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal were marred by witness-tampering.

Mustafa, who is the first witness in the trial to testify openly with few sessions held in private, will continue giving evidence on Monday.

Source : Balkaninsight