Kosovar rebels say war crimes ‘hoaxed’ as trial begins

A former Kosovar commander has pleaded not guilty to alleged ill-treatment and murder in 1999 during Pristina’s independence struggle, calling war crimes charges “hoaxed”.

Prosecutors said 59-year-old Pjeter Shala, also known as “Commander Wolf,” said that during the small country’s independence struggle in 1998-99, the separatist KLA rebels fought against then-Serbian leader Slobodan. It states that he was the local military leader in western Kosovo when he fought against troops loyal to Milosevic.

Shara was convicted of one count of torture, arbitrary detention, cruel treatment, and murder of at least 18 civilian detainees accused of either working as spies or collaborating with opposing Serbian forces in mid-1999. He faces four war crimes charges.

“I accept nothing,” Shara said after Chief Justice Mappy Welt Foglia asked him to file a petition.

“Completely innocent,” added Shara, who wore a black suit, white shirt and purple tie.

Prosecutors say Shara was part of a “small group of KLA soldiers” who brutally abused detainees at a metal factory that serves as KLA headquarters in Kukes, northeastern Albania.

Alex Whiting, the lead prosecutor for the case, said: “Detainees were subjected to repeated ill-treatment, torture and, in one case, murder.”

Shara “repeatedly participated in severe beatings, including the use of iron bars and sharp objects,” he said.

“As a result, the victim was covered in blood, had broken bones, and was unable to walk,” Whiting told the judge.

In another case, Shara and other KLA members were accused of shooting a detainee in June 1999.

The victim was beaten, shot in the leg and “bleeded to death,” Whiting said.

“It was a pointless waste of human life,” said Simon Lawes, an attorney representing the victims in the incident.

– Witness intimidation –

Shara was arrested in Belgium in March 2021 and transferred to The Hague.

He is being tried at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, a Kosovar court in the city that primarily prosecutes former KLA combatants for war crimes.

It is funded by the European Union and has international judges.

The court was set up in 2011 after the Council of Europe reported that KLA fighters were suspected of committing crimes.

The report also said there was evidence that the KLA guerrillas were part of a human organ harvesting and trafficking network operating in Albania, but an EU task force later found no evidence for that claim. Stated.

Since its establishment in 2017, the court has investigated several former KLA commanders for possible war crimes.

They include former KLA political commander Hashim Thaci, who dominated Kosovo politics and became president of the small country after declaring independence from Serbia in 2008.

Thaci stepped down in 2020 and faced charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

His lawyers vehemently deny the allegations of organ trafficking.

In December, a Kosovar court handed down the first sentence of 26 years in prison to former rebel commander Salif Mustafa, who ran a torture center.

But prosecutors told judges that witness intimidation continued in many cases brought to court.

Witness intimidation was “real, serious, pervasive, and continued to shape the trial,” Whiting said.

Earlier this month, a court reduced the prison sentences of two former KLA members convicted of intimidating war witnesses by three months to four years and three months each.

Shala’s defense is scheduled to give opening statements on Wednesday, giving the accused an opportunity to speak with a judge.

https://www.expatica.com/nl/general/kosovo-rebel-says-war-crimes-fabricated-as-trial-opens-525968/ Kosovar rebels say war crimes ‘hoaxed’ as trial begins

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