Rrustem Mustafa in court at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers. Photo: Livestream/Kosovo Specialist Chambers.

Guerrilla Leaders Were Outside Kosovo for Most of War, Trial Told

Former Kosovo Liberation Army area commander Rrustem Mustafa told the trial of Hashim Thaçi and other wartime guerrilla leaders in The Hague that many members of the KLA’s General Staff were mostly outside the country 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 on Monday that the members of the KLA’s General Staff were mostly outside the country during the war.

“All of them stayed outside of the country, excluding Jakup Krasniqi, Ramë Buja and zone commanders, all the others stayed outside of the country,” Mustafa said on his on the sixth day of his testimony in the trial of former Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi and three co-defendants, referring to the time period from November 1998 to March 1999.

Prosecutor Clare Lawson claimed however that Mustafa’s declaration was not true, requesting confirmation whether KLA members such as Lah Ibrahimi and defendant Rexhep Selimi had been in Kosovo during the war.

Mustafa told the court that there were times when Selimi had been abroad “but mostly he remained inside the country”.

Prosecutor Lawson said that “we can conclude that the statement should be corrected and that it is not correct that all members of the general staff have stayed abroad”.

But Mustafa said that although his words could be interpreted by the prosecutor as she wants, “many of those members [such as] Adem Grabovci, Hashim Thaci, Kadri Veseli and others stayed more outside the country than inside”.

Repeating his assertions from last week, Mustafa once again claimed that the KLA was “not a regular army” because there were no clear division of responsibilities.

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.

Thaçi and his co-defendants Veseli, Selimi and Krasniqi 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.

Mustafa also told the court that during the war the roles of some General Staff members were unclear; he said he was not aware for a long time that Azem Syla was the commander of the General Staff but believed that he dealt with logistics.

He also claimed that during the war, Krasniqi was known only as the spokesperson for the KLA and not as a deputy commander as suggested by documents he saw in court.

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.

17/07/2023 - 16:42

17 July 2023 - 16:42

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