Former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) Commander Salih Mustafa (R) appears for the first public hearing before the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, in The Hague, The Netherlands, 09 June 2021. The suspect was the former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the Kosovo war in 1998 and 1999. Photo: EPA-EFE/SEM VAN DER WAL / POOL

Conviction of Kosovo’s ‘Commander Cali’ Sparks Anger at Home

The 26-year sentence handed down to wartime Kosovo Liberation Army unit commander Salih Mustafa was condemned by some Kosovo Albanians as an unjust punishment imposed on a man who fought to defend his people.

Kosovo Albanians have expressed discontent about the verdict handed down on Friday by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague convicting former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Salih Mustafa of war crimes and sentencing him to 26 years in prison.

“Today, the former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Salih Mustafa, [alias] Cali, who fought for the liberation of the country from Serbian occupation, received a severe and undeserved sentence,” Minister of Environment, Spatial Planning and Infrastructure Liburn Aliu wrote on Facebook.

Aliu, a member of Kosovo’s ruling party, the Vetevendosje Movement, said that the conviction of Mustafa vindicated his party’s opposition to the establishment of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, the so-called Special Court set up to try KLA ex-members for wartime crimes.

Aliu said his party was “against the Special Court when its establishment was proposed in the [Kosovo] Assembly then, and today it is understood, unfortunately, that we were right”.

“A full 26 years of punishment for a man who defended his country. This is a great injustice to our entire nation,” he declared.

The court found that Mustafa, known during wartime as Commander Cali, was responsible for the arbitrary detention and torture of at least six detainees and the murder of one prisoner at a KLA detention centre in the village of Zllash/Zlas while he was a commander in the guerrilla force’s Llap Operation Zone in north-east Kosovo.

In The Hague, Acting Specialist Prosecutor Alex Whiting welcomed the verdict convicting Mustafa.

“Today’s judgment represents a victory for justice and, in particular, for the victims of Salih Mustafa and their families, all Kosovar Albanians, whose personal tragedies have been at the heart of this case and who have suffered more than two decades on account of Mr Mustafa’s actions,” Whiting said in a statement.

But in Kosovo, representatives of victims of war crimes committed by Serbian forces disagreed.

The NGO War Crimes Gjakova 98-99 published a statement calling for the release of Mustafa and other KLA members awaiting trial, including former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci.

It listed war crimes committed by Serbian forces, and described Mustafa as a “liberator” and the prosecutions of KLA members as “ridiculous”.

“Set those freedom fighters free, let them return to their homeland for which they sacrificed so much!” it urged.

Opposition politicians also criticised the verdict. Ganimete Musliu, an MP from the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, posted a message on Facebook thanking Mustafa for his wartime service.

“Thank you for fighting to protect the people and for the liberation of Kosovo. Those who submitted [evidence] files to The Hague against the liberators will be accompanied by shame even after death,” Musliu wrote.

The Specialist Chambers are part of Kosovo’s judicial system but are located in the Netherlands and staffed by internationals.

They were set up in August 2015 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, after previous cases at the UN’s Yugoslav war crimes court in The Hague were marred by witness-tampering.

Mustafa has the right to appeal against the verdict.

16/12/2022 - 18:18

16 December 2022 - 18:18

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