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World News

Kosovo war crimes tribunal arrests first suspect, former KLA leader

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - A former insurgent commander, Salih Mustafa, has been arrested in Kosovo and transferred to the Kosovo war crimes tribunal’s detention center in the Netherlands, the court said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: A view of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, Netherlands, July 13, 2020. REUTERS/Eva Plevier/File Photo

Mustafa was a Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander during the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict. The indictment charges Mustafa, 48, with four counts of war crimes including the beating and torture of at least six people and one murder.

According to the indictment, which was made public after his arrest, Mustafa led a guerilla unit which ran a detention facility and interrogation site where inmates were beaten, tortured, given electric shocks and urinated on.

According to prosecutors, Mustafa not only oversaw the violence but also personally participated in beatings and told one detainee he was a spy and was to be killed.

“Following his arrest by the specialist prosecutor’s office on 24 September 2020, Salih Mustafa was transferred to the detention facilities of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague on 24 September 2020,” the Hague-based tribunal said in a statement.

Under international law, Mustafa is presumed innocent until proven guilty. A date for his initial appearance in court has not been set, but he is expected to be brought before a judge in the next few days.

In June, the tribunal’s prosecutor released an indictment against Kosovo President Hashim Thaci for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, including nearly 100 murders.

The indictment has yet to be confirmed by a judge. Thaci, who denies wrongdoing, traveled to The Hague in July to meet with prosecutors.

The Specialist Chamber was set up in The Hague in 2015 to handle cases of alleged crimes by KLA guerrillas during the war that led to Kosovo’s independence from Serbia a decade later.

Local efforts to investigate alleged KLA war crimes have so far been foiled by widespread intimidation in the state where clan loyalties run deep and former rebels are lionised.

The special prosecutor’s office is based in the Netherlands partly to help ensure protection of witnesses.

The Specialist Chamber is governed by Kosovo law but is staffed by international judges and prosecutors.

Other suspects from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s have been tried at the now-defunct U.N. Yugoslav Tribunal.

Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg, Fatos Bytyci and Toby Sterling; Editing by Toby Chopra and Angus MacSwan

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