A key prosecution witness in the case against 12 former Serbian paramilitaries for war crimes in Kosovo claimed he was not “psychologically ready” to give evidence yet.
Zoran Raskovic, a former member of a Serbian paramilitary unit called the Jackals who is considered to be a crucial witness at the trial of 13 of his former comrades for war crimes committed in four Kosovo villages in 1999, asked the court to postpone his testimony, saying he wasn’t ready for Monday’s session.
“I was notified today at 12.50 [an hour before the trial session started] that I needed to testify. My abilities to provide testimony are reduced. I do not feel psychologically ready,” Raskovic told the court in Belgrade.
At a hearing in December 2011, Raskovic recalled in great detail the events that he witnessed in the Kosovo village of Cuska, where 44 civilians were killed when the settlement was attacked by the Jackals, Serbian territorial defence units and police reservists in May 14, 1999.
On Monday and Tuesday this week he was due to give evidence about violence in three other villages, Pavlan, Zahac and Ljubenic.
The Serbian prosecution alleges that Toplica Miladinovic, Srecko Popovic, Slavisa Kastratovic, Boban Bogicevic, Radoslav Brnovic, Vidoje Koricanin, Veljko Koricanin, Abdulah Sokic, Milojko Nikolic, Zoran Obradovic, Dejan Bulatovic and Ranko Momic were responsible for killing more than 100 ethnic Albanians during the conflict in Kosovo in 1999.
Some of them insisted however that Raskovic’s testimony could not be trusted.
“I am deeply disappointed by this court. [Raskovic] was not in Pavlan, he was just in Cuska, and then at the end he went to Zahac. He is a liar and a criminal. This is a disgrace,” defendant Momic said.
“How can court trust this man? He is a criminal. He was convicted for drug smuggling while he was 14,” said defendant Popovic.
At the beginning of the trial, Raskovic was a protected witness, but later decided to reject the protection measures, claiming he was threatened and intimidated by the police’s witness protection unit.
He made similar allegations at Monday’s trial session.
“I am asking this court to protect me,” he said.
“I need protection because all these men are free,” he explained, referring to the other members of the Jackals who have been released on ‘personal recognisance’ despite the ongoing trial.
Treatment of witnesses by the witness protection unit, which is run by Serbia’s interior ministry, has been widely criticised by a number of international institutions, including the OSCE, Council of Europe and the European Parliament.