News 05 Apr 13

Prisoner Denies Torture by Kosovo Commanders

A witness in the high-profile ‘Llapi Group’ war crimes case denied he was beaten or tortured at a Kosovo Liberation Army detention centre in Llapashtica/Lapastica.

Edona Peci

Prosecution witness Rushid Ballovci told the court in Pristina on Thursday he was held at the wartime detention centre from November to December 1998, but said he “still doesn’t know the reasons” why he was detained and interrogated.

He identified one of the three defendants, ex-KLA fighter Nazif Mehmeti (alias Dini) as one of his interrogators.

“I knew Dini. I was told that Lata [defendant Latif Gashi] was there, but I had a sack on my head so I don’t know,” he said.

Mehmeti, current lawmaker Gashi and former MP Rrustem Mustafa (alias Remi) – collectively known as the the ‘Llapi Group’ – all held command positions within the KLA during the conflict with Serbian forces in 1998-99.

Their indictment alleges that “Latif Gashi, Nazif Mehmeti and Rrustem Mustafa, acting in concert with other unidentified individuals and pursuant to a joint criminal enterprise, ordered and participated in the beating and torture of Kosovo Albanian civilians detained in the detention centre located at Llapashtica/Lapastica, in an attempt to force those detainees to confess to acts of disloyalty to the KLA from October of 1998 until late April 1999”.

Ballovci described the conditions inside the detention centre as appalling.

“There was no ill-treatment, but the place was very bad. It would have been better if I was beaten than being kept there,” he said.

The prosecution pointed out discrepancies between Ballovci’s current testimony and interviews he previously gave to UN Mission in Kosovo police officers and investigating judges as well as during cross-examinations in previous trials.

Previously he had said that Gashi was present during his interrogation, and that he and other prisoners had been beaten.

“He is giving two radically different versions of what happened. Both cannot be true,” EU rule of law mission in Kosovo judge Jonathan Carol said.

“No, I didn’t say that,” the witness said on several occasions, raising potential doubts about the reliability of his testimony.

“I didn’t say I lied, I said I was under pressure,” he added, also suggesting that his previous words might have been incorrectly translated.

The Llapi Group case was first investigated in 2001 and 2002 by the UN mission in Kosovo.

In 2005, after a two-year trial which concluded with guilty verdicts for the defendants, Kosovo’s supreme court ordered a retrial because the allegations had not been proved “beyond all doubt”.

In 2009, the three former KLA commanders were again found guilty of war crimes and jailed for the torture and inhumane treatment of detention camp prisoners.

They appealed against the verdicts and in 2011, the supreme court ordered a partial retrial.

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