News 10 Jan 13

Hague Frees Two War Crimes Convicts

The Hague Tribunal has granted early releases to a Kosovo prison guard and a Bosnian Serb jailed in separate cases for crimes in wartime detention centres.

Marija Ristic, Denis Dzidic
Belgrade, Sarajevo

In the first early release, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY,  freed Haradin Bala, a former guard at a Kosovo Liberation Army prison camp, who was jailed for 13 years for committing war crimes in the late 1990s.

“He played a role in the maintenance and enforcement of the inhumane conditions of detention in the Lapusnik prison camp. Bala, with one or perhaps two other KLA guards, murdered nine prisoners from the prison camp in the Berisa Mountains on 25 or 26 July 1998,” the trial verdict said.

Alongside Bala, the ICTY also charged Fatmir Limaj, a top Kosovo government official and former KLA commander, and Isak Musliu, another former KLA commander, for the crimes committed in the Lapusnik camp.

Limaj and Musliu were found not guilty.

In Serbia, charges have also been filed against Limaj alleging that he participated in the illegal removal of organs from prisoners at the Lapusnik camp, together with 20 other KLA members. He has denied the allegations.

Limaj, the vice-president of the Kosovo's ruling Democratic Party, underwent a separate trial for alleged war crimes committed in the Klecka prison camp during the conflict, together with three other former KLA members.

The four men were acquitted  in May last year of all charges of war crimes committed during the Kosovo conflict, but the prosecution appealed against the verdict and in November, the case was sent to a retrial. 

According to the indictment, the defendants “violated the bodily integrity and health of an unspecified number of Serb and Albanian civilians and Serb prisoners of war held in a detention centre in the village of Klecka”.

Almost all the charges were based on the testimony of Agim Zogaj, known as Witness X, who killed himself last September in Germany, before the trial started.

Zogaj was a prison guard at the Klecka prison and his diary about events there was crucial to the prosecution’s case.

In March 2012, the court found that his testimony and diaries were inadmissible, but the judge subsequently over-ruled that decision and his accounts are expected to play an important role in the retrial.

In the second, separate case, the ICTY freed Mladjo Radic, a Bosnian Serb jailed for 20 years for crimes in the Omarska camp near Prijedor.

The Tribunal said he was relased early because he had served two-thirds of his sentence.

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