A tribunal in The Hague opened proceedings against former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander Salih Mustafa on Wednesday.
Mustafa’s trial is the first to take place at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in the Dutch city of The Hague.
Former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, also formerly a KLA commander, is also to be tried there on charges of murder, abduction, persecution and torture.
What happened in court?
Mustafa, wearing a hooded top and jogging pants, swung in his chair and tapped a pen as he listened to the trial opening.
He dismissed the court’s authority – comparing it to Nazi Germany’s secret police, the Gestapo.
“I am not guilty of any of the counts brought here before me by this Gestapo office,” the 49-year-old said.
Prosecutors said Mustafa and his men “brutalized and tortured” fellow ethnic Kosovo Albanians whom they claimed had collaborated with Serbs.
“These were not enemies of Kosovo, they were not spies,” senior prosecutor Jack Smith told the court in an opening statement. “Their only crime was to have political views that differed from the KLA and its senior leaders.”
Smith said the hearing was a “milestone” for the court, which has taken six years to bring anyone to trial amid problems including witness intimidation.
At the beginning of the trial, Smith denied claims that his team was targeting the KLA, Kosovo, or its people or their struggle for independence.
”Nothing, nothing could be further from the truth,” he told the court.
Some 13,000 people were killed in the Kosovo conflict that led to the province’s secession from Serbia.
What crimes is Mustafa accused of?
Mustafa is charged with the murder of a prisoner and torture and ill-treatment of at least six civilians captured during the 1998-99 Kosovo war against Serbia. The alleged ill-treatment allegedly took place at a makeshift detention center.
He is also to stand trial for arbitrary arrests.
According to the indictment, the detainees were allegedly held in a locked stable in Zllash, a village east of Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, in April 1999.
They were allegedly subjected to “beatings with various instruments, burning and the administration of electric shocks.”
Some of them were urinated on in front of other detainees, the indictment states.
Mustafa is accused of personally beating one detainee with a baseball bat and slapping, punching, and kicking another.
The prisoners were kept in “inhumane” conditions, said Smith, with Mustafa personally taking part in the beatings.
One young man who was “repeatedly beaten and tortured” died.
Mustafa is accused of being jointly responsible for the homicide. He was allegedly either aware that the crime was being carried out, or knew that the victim was at risk of being killed.
The trial, which takes place through September and October, will hear from 16 witnesses, including former detainees.
rc/sms (AFP, AP)