The first case before the Kosovo War Crimes Court has begun.
The war crimes trial of a former rebel leader begins on Wednesday in The Hague before a special court investigating Kosovo’s 1998-1999 independence fight.
Salih Mustafa, a commander in the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), is accused of murder, torture, brutal treatment, and arbitrary detention.
Mustafa is accused of mistreating captives at a detention center in Zllash, a town east of the capital Pristina, in April 1999. He was detained last year while working as an adviser at Kosovo’s defense ministry.
The case is the first to go to trial at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, an EU-backed court established in 2015 in the Netherlands to investigate alleged KLA atrocities.
The trial will be formally opened on Wednesday by the chief judge, who will then read the indictment to Mustafa, according to the court.
“The accused will be asked if he understands the indictment and if he wants to confirm his previous plea. The defendant has pled not guilty in this case,” it stated.
Prosecutors will have three hours to make their opening statement, followed by 90 minutes for victims’ lawyers to testify.
During September and October, the trial will hear from 16 witnesses.
After an 11-week NATO bombing campaign, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s army withdrew from Kosovo, killing 13,000 civilians.
Following the wars that tore the former Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s, a slew of Serbian war criminals were found guilty by international tribunals.
During and after the conflict, however, KLA rebel leaders have been accused of carrying out retaliatory assaults on Serbs, Roma, and ethnic Albanian opponents.
According to the indictment, Mustafa, also known as Commander Cali, reportedly managed a temporary detention center for those accused of being spies, working with Serbian forces, or refusing to cooperate with the KLA.
Detainees were allegedly held captive in a confined stable and tortured to “beatings with various tools, burning, and electric shocks.” In front of other captives, several were urinated on.
Mustafa is accused of hitting one detainee with a baseball bat and slapping, punching, and kicking another.
The rest of the crimes were carried out on his orders or by those under his leadership, which he “knew or had reason to know.”
When an accused murder victim was brought to the prison center and “beaten and tormented much more,” he was present. Brief News from Washington Newsday.