Fri, 30 Oct 2020

Kosovar war veterans say that an unidentified man has again handed them files from a war crimes court in The Hague probing alleged crimes during and after the 1998-99 war, in what appears to be a security breach exposing protected witnesses.

It was the third such incident in two months that former rebel fighters reported receiving packages of court documents that include information on witnesses whose identities are meant to be protected to shield them from retribution.

A court spokesman warned that the veterans appeared to be trying to undermine the proper administration of justice.

Hysni Gucati, head of the association of former Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) fighters, said that the masked man delivered the files -- copies of the originals -- to the group's office on September 22 in the capital, Pristina.

'It would be good if the local prosecutor's office and the international ones probe and find who is bringing them and from where,' Gucati said.

The Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) for war crimes is mandated to look into allegations that UCK members committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict.

It operates under Kosovar law but is based in the Netherlands to shield witnesses from intimidation.

Christopher Bennett, spokesman for the Specialist Prosecutor's Office (SPO) at the KSC, condemned the statements by the veterans group, which he said 'has on a number of occasions engaged in activities which I believe are aimed at undermining the proper administration of justice.'

Bennett also commended journalists who were offered a copy of the documents for not publishing the files and acknowledging that such action would amount to a criminal act.

'I want to take this opportunity to commend the ethical journalists throughout Kosovo who have refused to publish documents provided to them, as well as the multiple journalists who have voluntarily provided us with the documents they received from the KLA War Veterans Association and publicly acknowledged that participating in disseminating such information could be a crime under the Kosovo Criminal Code,' Bennett said.

'The SPO is committed to vigorously investigating and prosecuting individuals who commit any such crimes, including the disclosure of the identity of individuals who may be called before the court or any information that could lead to their identification,' he concluded.

Kosovar President Hashim Thaci, former parliament speaker Kadri Veseli, and others have been charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, enforced disappearances, persecution, and torture.

A pretrial judge hasn't made a decision on whether to proceed with their cases. Both Thaci and Veseli have denied committing any crimes.

A statement from the embassies of France, Germany, Italy, Britain, and the United States last week urged people not to discredit the court's mission.

Kosovo's war of independence from Serbia left more than 10,000 people dead -- most of them ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. More than 1,600 people remain unaccounted for. The fighting ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign against Serbia.

Kosovo, which has a largely ethnic Albanian population, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by many Western states but not Serbia or its allies Russia and China.

With reporting by AP and AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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