In those dark days of April 1999 in the Zllash barracks, twenty kilometers from Priština, Salih Mustafa “wore a red beret”. According to this cover, several witnesses, who came to testify before the court for Kosovo in the past twelve months, identified the former commander Cali, under his military name, accused of committing war crimes due to arbitrary imprisonment, torture, murder and cruel treatment.
History will show whether this red beret will lead to the conviction of the former commander of the Reconnaissance and Intelligence Battalion (BIA) of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), separatist guerrillas who fought against Serbian forces under Slobodan Milošević in 1998 and 1999. The verdict will be pronounced by the end of the year.
At the conclusion of this trial, from September 13 to 15, prosecutor Jack Smith asked for thirty-five years in prison. – said the American “level of barbarism” exercises against twenty prisoners parked in a barn, beaten and tortured “like animals”. These people, civilians, were not the natural enemies of the guerrillas. But they were considered “traitors” for the KLA matter, even “associates” Serbian forces.
And others are destined “pacifists”, because they adhered to the non-violent ideas of Ibrahim Rugova, the leader of the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo (LDK), whom the heads of the more radical KLA hated. Among them is Hashim Thaçi. After becoming president of independent Kosovo in 2016, he resigned four years later to go to The Hague. Accused by a special court set up by the European Union in 2015 and recognized – reluctantly – by the Kosovo parliament, he has been imprisoned in Scheveningen prison awaiting trial since November 2020.
“It was a massacre”
On today’s day of the prosecutor’s indictment, Salih Mustafa ditched his red beret for a bright suit and black tie. The smile he wore in the first days of the trial, a year ago, is no longer on his face. For months now, he has been attending prison hearings via video link. He rejects the judgment that many KLA officials believe “Guantanamo for the Liberation Army”. But he hears the demands of the prosecutor, who refers to the testimonies of former prisoners.
At the bar of the court, these ex-prisoners recounted the murder of a man who was beaten more severely than themselves because he knew his executioners too well. “He had bruises on his face, nose and all over his body. He could no longer open his eyes. told the witness. “You cannot describe his condition in words, he added, his body, his wounds, the smell of his flesh was terrible. I believe it was a massacre. » After each torture session, the man was greeted by his comrades in the accident with “Death to the traitor! And the glory of UCK! », uttered under threat.
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