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Witnesses Claim Kosovo’s ‘Commander Wolf’ Tortured Their Relatives

Four witnesses testified in The Hague against former Kosovo Liberation Army member Pjeter Shala, claiming that he tortured their family members at a detention centre during the Kosovo war.

Four witnesses testified in the war crimes trial of former Kosovo Liberation Army member Pjeter Shala, known by the nom de guerre ‘Commander Wolf’, at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague this week, accusing him of torture.

The witness all claimed that their family members had been tortured by Shala personally at a KLA detention site at the Kukes Metal Factory in Albania in 1999. They all testified anonymously with their voices distorted to protect their identities.

The fourth witness claimed on Thursday that his family fled to Albania after the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia started in 1999 and their father was kidnapped by four people and sent to the metal factory.

“He told me that he was mistreated miserably there. They hit him with rubber sticks, cut his skin with a razor,” the witness told the court, adding that his father named Pjeter Shala as one of the people who tortured him.

According to the witness, Shala himself told his father at the Kukes Metal Factory that he had been present during attacks on the witness’s family’s cafe and house in 1998.

The third witness told the court on Wednesday had that his father had been a police officer for 35 years in the former Yugoslavia and therefore was considered a spy, “because of having kept his job as a police officer”.

He was kidnapped in Albania and sent to the Kukes Metal Factory where he was tortured, the third witness testified, adding that his father told him that Pjeter Shala was among those who tortured him.

The second witness told the court on Tuesday that her husband was tortured at the Kukes Metal Factory by Pjeter Shala.

The first witness on Monday made similar allegations, telling the court that “my father was held for some time in Kukes Metal Factory, where Pjeter Shala, personally, used physical violence, electrocution, blows with axes and massive beating against my father and other detainees”.

A considerable part of the hearings has been held in private session despite the prosecution claim that it will attempt to keep as much of the trial as possible public.

“A trial to be fair must be public… We must not forget the principles that hearings are public,” Shala’s defence lawyer Jean-Louis Gilissen told the court on Wednesday.

Shala has pleaded not guilty to all charges. His lawyer Gilissen had argued that the case against him is “based on hearsay”.

He is accused of direct involvement in the arbitrary detention, cruel treatment, torture and murder of prisoners held at the Kukes Metal Factory in Kukes in Albania, which the prosecution claims was used by the KLA as a detention centre.

According to the prosecution, 18 people were detained, interrogated and abused at the factory between approximately May 17, 1999 and June 5, 1999. The victims, mostly Kosovo Albanians but also some Roma people, were allegedly detained for collaborating with Serbia or opposing the KLA.

On Tuesday, Shala asked to follow the trial from the detention center of the Specialist Chambers because he was feeling anxious in court. The next day, his lawyer Gilissen explained that it was because some of the testimony was not public and some of his friends “told him they could not follow the session and could not understand it”.

The Specialist Chambers are part of Kosovo’s judicial system but are located in the Netherlands and staffed by internationals. They were set up by the Kosovo parliament, acting under pressure from the country’s Western allies, who believe Kosovo’s own justice system is not robust enough to try KLA cases and protect witnesses from intimidation.

The so-called ‘Special Court’ is highly unpopular in Kosovo, where it is seen as unfairly targeting Kosovo Albanian freedom fighters rather than the Serbian perpetrators of the majority of the war crimes that were committed in 1998-99.

The trial is expected to continue in early May.

Source : Balkan Transitional Justice