Kosovo war crimes suspect slams ‘Gestapo’ court
A former Kosovo rebel commander compared a war crimes court to Nazi Germany's secret police as it began its first trial in The Hague yesterday.
Salih Mustafa is accused of murder and torture at a makeshift Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) detention centre during the 1998-1999 independence war with Serbia.
"I am not guilty of any of the counts brought here before me by this Gestapo office," Mustafa, 49, said as his trial started at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers.
Wearing a black hooded top and jogging pants, Mustafa swung in his chair and repeatedly tapped a pen on his fingers as he listened to the opening of the trial through headphones.
Mustafa, who was arrested last year while working as an adviser at Kosovo's defence ministry, is the first suspect to go on trial at the court, set up in 2015 to probe atrocities by the separatist KLA.
Prosecutors said Mustafa and his men "brutalised and tortured" fellow ethnic Kosovo Albanians whom they accused of collaborating with Serbs in Zllash, a village east of the capital Pristina.
"These were not enemies of Kosovo, they were not spies," senior prosecutor Jack Smith told the court in his opening statement.
"Their only crime was to have political views that differed from the KLA and its senior leaders."
The prosecutor said the hearing was a "milestone" for the court, which has taken six years to bring anyone to trial and faced problems with witness intimidation.
Mustafa faces charges of murder, torture, cruel treatment and arbitrary detention relating to at least six detainees.
According to the indictment, detainees were allegedly held in a locked stable and subjected to "beatings with various instruments, burning and the administration of electric shocks". Some were urinated on in front of other detainees.
Mustafa is alleged to have personally beaten one detainee with a baseball bat and slapped, punched and kicked another.
Smith said prisoners were kept in "inhumane" conditions with Mustafa personally taking part in the beatings.
One young man died after being "repeatedly beaten and tortured".
Mustafa is accused of being jointly responsible for the murder by either being aware that the crime was being carried out, or knowing that the victim was at risk of being killed.
The trial will hear from 16 witnesses, including former detainees, during September and October.
The Kosovo war, which left 13,000 people dead, ended when Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic's forces withdrew after an 11-week Nato bombing campaign.