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Kosovo war veterans jailed for witness intimidation by specialist court

Two leaders of a Kosovo veterans association have been imprisoned for witness intimidation and obstruction of justice.

A European Union-backed war crimes tribunal convicted Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj on Wednesday, sentencing them to four and a half years in prison and fines.

This is the first verdict issued by the tribunal after its establishment in 2015.

Kosovo’s Specialized Chambers said the two suspects had prevented “effective investigations and prosecutions” against former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA.

The veterans were found to have made public leaked confidential documents about prosecutors’ “investigations and internal work” at press conferences in September 2020. This included the identities of hundreds of witnesses and potential witnesses.

Gucati and Haradinaj had also publicly called the witnesses “traitors”, “spies” and “collaborators”, the court heard.

The court found that their actions were intended “to make witnesses and potential witnesses fearful and therefore reluctant to provide information.”

“This judgment clearly portrays these acts for what they are: criminal and unpatriotic,” said Presiding Judge Charles Smith.

Both men, however, were acquitted in retaliation after prosecutors failed to present evidence.

The Hague-based ad hoc tribunal is investigating alleged war crimes related to KLA actions during the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo.

Prosecutors have charged several people, including Kosovo’s former president, Hashim Thaçi, with murder, torture and persecution. All suspects have denied the allegations.

Gucati, who was president of the Kosovo Liberation Army Veterans Association, and Haradinaj, his deputy, were arrested in September 2020.

It is unclear whether Gucati and Haradinaj would appeal their convictions and sentences. Both pleaded not guilty at the start of the trial last October.

Gucati’s replacement at the veterans association, Faton Klinaku, called the verdicts ‘political’ and ‘biased’, and accused the court of failing to address alleged war crimes committed by Serbs during the same war .

Witness intimidation has been a major problem in the international prosecution of crimes committed during the Kosovo conflict.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by most EU countries, but not by the government in Belgrade, backed by China and Russia.

euronews Gt

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