Shaun Byrnes at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers on March 25. Photo: Livestream/Kosovo Specialist Chambers.

Kosovo Guerrilla Leadership Didn’t Order Abductions, US Diplomat Testifies

The former head of the US Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission, Shaun Byrnes, told the war crimes trial of ex-President Hashim Thaci and three other former Kosovo Liberation Army officers that he never had evidence that they ordered abductions.

Shaun Byrnes, who led the US Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission during the Kosovo war, told the war crimes and crimes against humanity trial of Hashim Thaci and his three co-defendants at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers this week that he had no information about that General Staff of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA ordered their opponents to be seized.

“We never had any evidence that showed that the General Staff of the KLA – Thaci, [Jakup] Krasniqi, Rame Buja, Xhavit [Haliti] and others – gave orders or instructions to take hostages, abduct Serbian journalists or LDK [Democratic League of Kosovo party] activists… or any civilian,” Byrnes, who headed the US mission from August 1998 until July 1999, told the court on Wednesday.

During the questioning by the defendant Kadri Veseli’s lawyer, Byrnes said that his “presumption was that these actions [abductions] were undertaken either independently by the local commanders of the KLA or their superiors, for example the commander of the brigade or the [wartime operational zone”.

He said that the General Stuff did not have command responsibility for the detentions in the KLA’s various operational zones around Kosovo, nor the power to prevent them.

The defence in the trial has been seeking to prove that the KLA was a more loosely-structured force without a strong command structure, claiming that the General Staff could not control the decisions and actions of the operational zone commanders.

Byrnes testified that based on his experience in Kosovo during the war and information he acquired after the war, the KLA was not fully established as a structured army until March 1999.

“We believed and tried to create a coherent army from these disobedient people, from this militia, precisely an army that was able to be controlled but also represented by them before the international community,” he said.

But he said that KLA operational zone commanders such as Ramush Haradinaj or Rrustem Mustafa often had enough independence to even purchase weapons from their own sources.

One of the counts in the indictment alleges that Thaci and co-defendant Rexhep Selimi, together with others, “participated in and led the arrest, detention, and intimidation of 13 members of a parliamentary delegation who were on a humanitarian visit to Qirez/Cirez” in Kosovo in September 1998.

Byrnes told the court on Wednesday that Gjergj Dedaj, Kosovo’s former ambassador to North Macedonia and an ally of the LDK party at the time, “told me that Thaci was giving orders” during the incident in Qirez/Cirez.

Byrnes said that “the detention was a major incident, directed by the General Staff”, adding that “I accepted the view that Mr. Thaci was the political director in the General Staff and therefore he apparently was in charge of the Qirez operation”.

However, in November 2023, Dedaj testified at the Spacialist Chambers that he had “exaggerated” his previous testimony to investigators about the incident in Qirez/Cirez.

The incident happened amid disagreements between the KLA and the LDK party, Byrnes said.

“The political conflict growing between the KLA and LDK, at the end of the day, was related to who was going to govern Kosovo after they got rid of the Serbs,” he emphasised.

Trial defendants Thaci, Veseli, Krasniqi and Rexhep Selimi are accused of having individual and command responsibility for crimes committed against prisoners held at KLA detention facilities in Kosovo and neighbouring Albania, including 102 murders.

The crimes were allegedly committed between at least March 1998 and September 1999, during and just after the war with Serbian forces. The defendants have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers were set up in 2015 to try former KLA guerrillas for wartime and post-war crimes. The court was established in The Hague 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.

27/03/2024 - 18:29

27 March 2024 - 18:29

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