The former commander of his Albanian separatist guerrillas Kosovo Salih Mustafa confronted the international court with the secret police of Nazi Germany at the beginning of his trial today in The Hague.
Salih Mustafa, former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) is accused of arbitrary detention, atrocities, torture and the murder of a prisoner during the war with Serbia (1998-1999).
“I am not guilty of any of the charges brought against me by this Gestapo office,” the 49-year-old said at the start of the trial in the Special Court for Kosovo.
He was arrested last year while working as a consultant at the Ministry of Defense and is the first defendant to be tried in the Special Court since its inception in 2015.
Prosecutors say Salih Mustafa and his men “abused and tortured” their Kosovo Albanian compatriots, accusing them of collaborating with Serbs in Zlas, a village east of the capital Pristina.
“They were not Kosovo’s enemies, they were not spies,” Attorney General Jack Smith told the court during his opening remarks. “Their crime was that they had different political views from the KLA and its leadership.”
The prosecutor said the hearing was an “important step” for the court, which took six years to bring to justice and had problems intimidating witnesses.
At trial, 16 witnesses will be heard during the upcoming hearings in September and October.
“They are all heroes”
The Kosovo war, which killed 13,000 people, ended in 1999 with a NATO bombing campaign that forced Serbian forces to withdraw.
After the wars that tore apart Yugoslavia in the 1990s, many Serbian war criminals were convicted by other international courts.
The Special Court for Kosovo is tasked with investigating war crimes and crimes committed in Kosovo from 1998 to 2000 by the KLA against Serbs, Roma and Kosovars opposed to KLA action.
“War crimes committed on one side do not justify war crimes on the other,” said Prosecutor Jack Smith.
Salih Mustafa is the first to be tried by the Special Court, which has indicted former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci.
The tribunal’s activities remain sensitive, as former members of the KLA leadership continue to dominate Kosovo’s political landscape and are considered by many to be heroes.
International tensions remain around Kosovo. The United States and most Western countries have recognized the independence of the former province of Serbia, an independence never accepted by Belgrade.