News 09 Aug 16

Kosovo Ex-Guerrilla Jailed for Wartime Torture

EU rule-of-law mission judges sentenced former Kosovo Liberation Army fighter Xhemshit Krasniqi to eight years in jail for the abuse and torture of civilians in detention camps in Kosovo and Albania.

Marija Ristic
Xhemshit Krasniqi. Photo: Facebook

The panel of international judges at the Basic Court in Mitrovica on Monday found Xhemshit Krasniqi, a former member of Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, guilty of war crimes against civilians and “unauthorised ownership, control and possession or use of weapons”.

According to the ruling, Krasniqi was responsible for the “arrest, illegal detention, violation of bodily integrity and health and torture of several witnesses and unknown civilians in the KLA camps in towns of Kukes and Cahan (Albania), as well as in town of Prizren (Kosovo) during 1999”.

The verdict said he committed his crimes in collaboration with other KLA members.

Krasniqi was sentenced to eight years in prison and told to pay a fine of 1,500 euros.

His detention on remand was extended until the verdict becomes final, as both parties have the right to appeal.

Krasniqi was arrested in October in his hometown of Prizren in southern Kosovo during a police operation staged by the EU-rule-of law mission, EULEX.

During the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia, from March to June 1999, the KLA, then fighting the Serbian police and military, had a base in the Albanian town of Kukes, from where they launched guerrilla operations across the border in Kosovo.

The KLA also maintained a network of prisons in their bases in Albania and Kosovo during and after the conflict of 1999.

These prisons held Kosovo Albanians suspected of collaboration, Serbs and Roma. Some detainees were tortured and it is also believed that some were killed.

The Serbian association of missing persons says some 500 Kosovo Serbs are still listed as missing.

A Council of Europe report from 2011 said KLA fighters used a former metal factory in Kukes and converted it into a multi-purpose facility, including at least two ‘cellblocks’ to house detainees.

The report said the prisoners “were thrown into makeshift cellblocks, left in insanitary conditions without food and water, and were visited periodically by KLA soldiers to be questioned under harsh treatment, or indiscriminately beaten”.

In statements given to UN prosecutors in 2009 and 2010, more than ten people – almost all of them ethnic Albanians – described having been detained indefinitely, hit with sticks and other objects, and subjected to various forms of inhumane treatment at the Kukes site.

Several witnesses said that screams of agony from people held in separate sets of cellblocks could be heard filtering through the corridors.

Kosovo is currently in the process of setting up a new internationally-backed court.

The establishment of the so-called ‘specialist chambers’ comes after the EU’s Special Investigative Task Force in 2014 published the findings of its three-year investigation into allegations initially made by Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty.

Marty claimed that KLA members committed grave crimes against civilians such as kidnapping, torture and even organ-harvesting.

The EU and US have been pushing Kosovo to pass the necessary constitutional amendments and laws to enable the court to operate.

They say the court is needed because the Kosovo judiciary are unable or unwilling to properly prosecute former KLA figures, and EULEX does not have the capacity to do so.

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