By Goran Jungvirth in Zagreb (TU No 402, 15-Apr-05)
Prosecutors have finished presenting their case against the first Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, members ever to appear before the Hague tribunal.
Fatmir Limaj, Isak Musliu and Haradin Bala are accused of running a prison camp in the village of Lapusnik in 1998 where dozens of Serbs and suspected Albanian collaborators were beaten and murdered.
Since the opening of proceedings last November, a series of ex-KLA fighters, international observers, former detainees and their relatives have testified about the existence of the camp, the vicious treatment of inmates and the key roles allegedly played by the three accused.
Prosecutors have also entered some 245 military orders, newspaper cuttings, photographs, maps and other documents into evidence.
Marking the end of the case this week, an Office of the Prosecutor, OTP, analyst told judges that there was widespread fighting in Kosovo during the time period in question, and said he had seen numerous reports of Serb civilians being kidnapped.
For the charges to be valid, prosecutors must prove that the alleged crimes were committed while the KLA was involved in “protracted armed violence” with the Yugoslav government.
Earlier in the week, judges heard from a doctor who ran a clinic in Lapusnik and confirmed having seen Bala there on a number of occasions. Bala’s lawyers claim he was stationed elsewhere in Kosovo for most of the relevant period.
The testimony of medic Zechir Gashi also exemplified some of the problems prosecutors have faced in the case to date, with the witness denying any knowledge of a prison camp in the village and admitting having lied to investigators.
Gashi said he had “partially told the truth to the tribunal investigators and partially not” – at one point denying having known the accused Bala, before later admitting that they had been acquainted for many years.
The doctor said his evasiveness came down to the fact that he didn't want to testify in the trial, but didn’t explain why that should be the case.
To date, a series of other witnesses have appeared in court with their identities protected in an effort to minimise intimidation problems. And most ex-KLA members have agreed to testify only after being issued a subpoena.
Gashi told judges that having completed his university education in Pristina, he opened up a private medical practice in Lapusnik, his home village, in 1994. At the beginning of June 1998, under pressure from local KLA commanders, he set up an ambulance service and makeshift hospital to treat both civilians and soldiers.
The witness said he personally met all three of the accused in Lapusnik during June and July.
Limaj, he said, was the commander in charge of the local area. And Musliu commanded the KLA unit based in Lapusnik itself. He told judges that Musliu was in charge of supplying the ambulance service with medicines and other supplies.
The witness’s testimony that Bala visited his medical clinic on two or three occasions to receive treatment for heart problems is particularly significant, given that the clinic in question was only established in early June. Lawyers for Bala have argued that while their client arrived in Lapusnik around May 8, his health was so bad that KLA commanders transferred him to non-combat duties away from the village at most two weeks later.
The witness said that while he was in Lapusnik, he ate meals with soldiers in a particular building which prosecutors claim was just across the road from the family compound that housed the prison.
But while he acknowledged that he had seen soldiers as well as civilians going into and out of that compound, he denied knowing about any prison and insisted that there were soldiers billeted in most houses in the village at the time.
The testimony of Philip Coo, chief of the OTP’s analysis department, marked the end of the week and the end of the prosecution case.
Coo, who previously testified in the trial of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, described a series of reports by officials from the Serbian interior ministry, MUP, about abductions of Serbian civilians in Kosovo in 1998.
Prosecutors say prisoners at the Lapusnik camp ended up there after being kidnapped by KLA troops in the surrounding area.
On the question of the scale of fighting in Kosovo at the time, the witness discussed a number of letters by Serbian generals Momcilo Perisic and Nebojsa Pavkovic in which they asked Belgrade to send more forces to Kosovo and to declare a state of emergency.
From the letters, it was clear that the generals estimated the KLA’s numbers at the time at around 3,000 to 4,000 fighters, and considered that the rebels were in control of some 40 per cent of the province.
The witness said European Monitoring Mission reports and KLA propaganda confirmed the intensity of fighting between the Albanian rebels and Serb forces.
During cross-examination, Richard Harvey, co-counsel for Bala, sought to bring the witness’ authority into question, suggesting that his own area of expertise was the structure of Serb forces and that he was relatively ignorant about the KLA.
“I have never been given the assignment to view the KLA command structure,” the witness admitted.
Defence lawyers also tried to show that the situation in Kosovo in 1998 was far from clear-cut by asking the witness about a rival Albanian rebel force, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo, FARK.
And they discussed a theory put forward by Lord Paddy Ashdown, the international community’s high representative in Kosovo, that the KLA was divided into many parts, each of which acted independently of the rest.
There will now be a one-month break in proceedings before defence lawyers begin laying out their case on May 17. Defence counsel reported in court that they would use the intervening period to travel to Kosovo and question potential witnesses.
In the meantime, tribunal judges have ordered that the trial of Beqe Beqaj, a relative of the accused Musliu, will begin on April 25.
Beqaj is charged with trying to get prosecution witnesses to withdraw their testimony from the Lapusnik camp case.
Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR contributor in Zagreb.