Kosovo tribunal convicts former KLA commander in first war crimes verdict
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — In a milestone ruling, judges at the Kosovo tribunal on Friday convicted a former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrilla commander who ran a prison where torture took place during the 1998-99 independence conflict with Serbia.
In its first-ever war crimes verdict, the court sentenced Salih Mustafa to 26 years in prison for war crimes including murder and torture in a detention center where prisoners, mostly fellow Kosovo Albanians who were political opponents of the KLA, were beaten and tortured on a daily basis.
Judges found Mustafa personally took part in the beatings and torture of at least two prisoners and allowed his subordinates to mistreat another so badly that he later died.
“He subjected one detainee to a mock execution,” presiding judge Mappie Veldt-Foglia said in a summary of the ruling.
Mustafa, 50, had denied the charges and his lawyers accused prosecution witnesses of fabricating their stories. Both sides have 30 days to appeal the decision.
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers, a Kosovo court seated in the Netherlands and staffed by international judges and lawyers, was set up in 2015 to handle cases under Kosovo law against former KLA guerrillas.
The court is separate from the United Nations tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which was also located in The Hague where it tried and convicted Serbian officials for war crimes committed in the Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts.
More than 13,000 people are believed to have died during the 1998-99 uprising in Kosovo when it was still part of Serbia under then-President Slobodan Milosevic. The fighting ended after NATO air strikes on Serbian forces, and Kosovo declared independence in 2008, although Belgrade does not recognize it as independent.
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