Prosecutors for a Hague-based international tribunal investigating war crimes committed during Kosovo’s 1990s independence war have arrested their first suspect – a former senior commander in the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
Salih Mustafa, the former KLA commander, has been charged with murder, torture, arbitrary detention and cruel treatment, prosecutors at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers said on Thursday.
During the 1998-1999 conflict, the KLA was made up of ethnic Albanian rebels who sought independence for the southern Serbian province of Kosovo.
Mustafa, 48, was arrested in Kosovo and transferred to the court based in the Dutch city where he appeared before a judge and will now be detained, they said in a statement.
He is charged with crimes “against at least six people” at a detention compound in Zllash, Kosovo in April 1999.
“Moreover, it is stated that one detainee was murdered at that location,” the statement added.
The murdered prisoner was “singled out by certain KLA members and was beaten and tortured more severely than the other detainees”, the indictment against him said.
The arrest comes months after the court indicted Kosovo President Hashim Thaci for his alleged role in nearly 100 murders during the conflict while he led the KLA. Thaci was questioned but not formally arrested.
Mustafa, currently a civil staff officer in the defence ministry, was a KLA member known to have operated in north Kosovo.
Afterwards, he led the intelligence service in the Kosovo Security Force, a lightly armed emergency force that emerged from the demilitarised KLA.
Hysni Gucati, of the war veterans’ association, said: “To us, the court and its actions are unacceptable.”
The association said it anonymously received thousands of confidential files during the last two months, which contain names of witnesses and also draft charges against former top KLA commanders.
It was not clear whether the files were stolen or leaked by someone involved in the investigation.
The war veterans said they would make them public, a move which a court spokesman warned would undermine the proper administration of justice.
The Specialist Prosecutor’s Office is investigating how the association came into possession of the documents.
The matter is highly sensitive in Kosovo, where former rebel commanders still dominate political life.
The 1998-1999 war for Kosovo’s independence from Serbia left more than 10,000 people dead – most of them ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. More than 1,600 people remain unaccounted for.
The fighting ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign against Serbian troops.
But tensions remain to this day, with the US and most of the West recognising Kosovo, while Belgrade and its allies Russia and China do not.