A Belgrade court has sentenced 11 former KLA fighters, members of the so-called Gnjilane Group to a total of 116 years of prison for crimes against civilians during the Kosovo war.
Agush Memishi was sentenced to 12 years, Samet Hajdari to 15, Nazif Hasani and Ahmet Hasani to 13 years in prison each.
Burim Fazli and Selimon Sadiki to 12 years, Faton Hajdari to 10, Ferat Hajdari, Kamber Sahiti ahd Sadik Aliu to eight years each, and Shefqet Musliu to five years of prison.
Fazli Ajdari, Rexhep Aliu, Shaqir Shaqiri, Idriz Aliu, Ramadan Halimi, who are on the run have been cleared of all charges and the international warrant for their arrest has been revoked. Shemsi Nuhui, who was extradited to Serbia in May 2012, was also released.
The presiding judge, Snezana Nikolic Garotic, said on Wednesday that the sentenced men were found guilty of abuse, rape and torture of protected witnesses C1 and C2.
The two women, both Kosovo Serbs, were kidnapped on June 17, 1999, taken to a dormitory in Gnjilane and raped, humiliated and tortured on a daily basis until they managed to flee to Serbia on June 23.
“Medical documentation matched the testimonies of protected witnesses and, although there were some discrepancies with their preliminary testimony in Nis in 1999 regarding the time of the crime, the court accepted their testimonies as authentic,” explained Judge Nikolic Garotic.
The judge added that the Trial Chamber unanimously concluded that the defendants violated the Geneva Convention.
The court rejected the prosecution’s claims that the Kosovo conflict lasted till December 1999, when the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, was disarmed, since Serb forces withdrew from the territory on June 20.
The court also dismissed the testimony from the prosecution’s key witness, code-named Bozur 50, on whose testimony the indictment was based.
“The witness talked about widely known facts which were of no significance for the trial. The court checked his claims that bodies of the victims were incinerated and butchered and after forensic examination established that the bodies intact."
"Also, we investigated claims that bodies were put into bags and thrown into the Livac Lake. However, after the lake has been searched, no remains were found,” said the judge.
The judge added that 206 witnesses were examined in the course of the trial, 179 of victims and families of victims.
“All 179 of these witnesses described the events in Gnjilane, but not those specified in the indictment, but other crimes for which they specifically blamed their Albanian neighbours. None of the witnesses described the events specified in the indictment. Also, none of them named the defendants as perpetrators,” explained the judge.
The judge emphasised that in this case the prosecution was dealing with a staged event and misused the suffering of victims, and dismissed the prosecution’s claims that the defendants threatened the prosecution during the trial.
A court in Belgrade sentenced nine members of the Gnjilane Group to a total of 101 years in prison for war crimes against civilians on January 21, 2011.
The War Crime Chamber of the Appellate Court in Belgrade quashed that verdict on December 7, 2011, and set the case for a retrial.
The War Crimes Prosecution’s Office is satisfied with the sentencing part of the verdict, but it said it would appeal the acquittal of six defendants.
The defence also announced they would appeal to the Appellate Court.