Salih Mustafa is accused of crimes committed when ethnic Albanian KLA rebels fought to break away from Serbia.
The first case at a special court investigating crimes following the 1998-1999 independence conflict in Kosovo begins in The Hague with the war crimes trial of a former rebel leader facing charges of murder and torture.
Salih Mustafa is charged with war crimes of arbitrary detention, cruel treatment, torture of at least six people and the murder of one person at a detention center in Zllash, Kosovo, in April 1999. The victims have been accused by KLA fighters of cooperated according to Serbs or did not support the KLA, according to his accusation.
His trial began on Wednesday with the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, Judge Mappie Veldt-Foglia, giving a history of the trial before the charges against Mustafa were read out.
“I am not guilty of any of the charges brought before me by this Gestapo office,” Mustafa, 49, said when his trial began, comparing the war crimes tribunal to Nazi Germany’s secret police.
He wore a red T-shirt in court and listened to a simultaneous translation of the proceedings through headphones he held over his left ear.
Mustafa was arrested in Kosovo a year ago and sent to the Netherlands for trial at the EU – backed Kosovo Specialist Chambers.
Prosecutors make an opening statement of up to three hours.
They said Mustafa and his men had “cruelly and tortured” their fellow ethnic Kosovo Albanians, accusing them of collaborating with Serbs in Zllash, a town east of the capital Pristina.
“These were not enemies of Kosovo, these were not spies,” senior prosecutor Jack Smith told the court in the opening statement.
“Their only crime was to have political views that differed from the KLA and its senior leaders.”
The trial is the first to begin at the Hague court, which operates under Kosovo law and is set up to deal with allegations of war crimes committed when ethnic Albanian rebels in the Kosovo Liberation Army fought a bloody conflict over Serbia. to break, to finish.
It was set up six years ago, following a report by the Council of Europe in 2011, a human rights body, alleging that KLA fighters traded human organs from prisoners and killed Serbs and fellow ethnic Albanians. which they regarded as collaborators.
Among other former rebel commanders awaiting trial is former Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, who resigned last year to defend himself against war crimes in The Hague.
The court has the mandate to investigate and prosecute allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kosovo, or related to the 1998-2000 Kosovo conflict.
Most of the people who died in the Kosovo war were ethnic Albanians. A 78-day NATO air campaign against Serbian troops ended the fighting.
Several Serbs have been prosecuted at a former UN war crimes tribunal for their role in atrocities during the Kosovo war.
Mustafa is charged with personal involvement in arbitrary detention, cruel treatment and torture, and on command responsibility for the murder. He is also charged with involvement in all four crimes as a member of a ‘joint criminal enterprise’.
The activities of the court are very sensitive, as former rebel commanders still dominate political life in Kosovo and are treated by many as heroes.
“They can condemn Mustafa and the others 100 times, but for me it is the heroes who had the courage to stand up against Serbia,” Adem Idrizi, 65, a pensioner from Pristina, told AFP.
Others trusted the tribunal to do its job.
‘I believe the international judges will establish the truth. I just believe the evidence, “said Blerta Hyseni, 24, a lawyer.
International tensions over Kosovo persist to this day, while the United States and most of the West recognize Kosovo, while Belgrade and its allies Russia and China do not.