Former Kosovar President Hashim Thaci pleaded "totally innocent" before the Special Court for Kosovo (TEK) which began trying him today for war crimes such as murder and torture during the conflict against Serbia in 1998-99, while the prosecution warned that "no one is above the law, even in times of war."
Also present at this Court, in The Hague, were the other defendants: Kadri Veseli, former Speaker of the Kosovar Parliament and leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo PDK; Rexhep Selimi, head of the opposition parliamentary group Vetevendosje; and Jakup Krasniqi, president of the national council of the Social Democratic Initiative party.
Prosecutor Alex Whiting recalled that they were "founding members" of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK, in Albanian), the Kosovar Albanian guerrilla that faced Serbia in the late 1990s, and are responsible as "superiors" for four war crimes and six against humanity, having "supervised the attacks" against all those seen as traitors or collaborators with the Serbs.
The prosecution sees them as "individually and criminally responsible" for crimes "committed by their subordinates", including persecution, detention, illegal or arbitrary arrest, cruel treatment, torture, hundreds of murders, forced disappearance and other inhumane acts, and assured that "they knew or had reason to know that the crimes were going to be committed or were committed", but "they did not take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent them".
"In times of war, the threat and intensity of conflict can make the use of illegal means to advance one's cause seem both justified and necessary. That's where the law comes in. That's precisely why we have the laws. of war, to contain and control the worst instincts and impulses that surface during war. To ensure that humanity is not lost to the horrors of war," Whiting added today.
He warned that "there is no justification for the arbitrary detention of civilians and people hors de combat, and subjecting them to abuse, torture and murder" and recalled that the reason for this trial is "to vindicate the rule of law and the principle that no one is above the law, even in times of war".
Thaci came to court dressed in a suit, white shirt and blue tie, and followed the trial with interpreting headphones, sometimes taking notes. "I am completely innocent," he assured, confirming the statement he made after his transfer to The Hague in November 2020.
During the investigations into the case before 2020, the prosecutor said, Thaci traveled "on several occasions secretly to The Hague to offer extended interviews recorded on video", in which, "with a series of significant concessions, he denied much about his role in the war" and "refused to know anything about the arrests.
But, Whiting warned, evidence to be presented in the coming months or years "will show these claims to be false" and "is contradicted by statements made by Thaci himself at other times and by the other defendants, as well as by the overwhelming evidence ".
Selimi also pleaded not guilty to all aspects of the accusation, while Krasniqi also noted his disagreement with the prosecutor.
"I have no connection or whatever with the accusations read before by the prosecution" and "I understand the accusation as it is, but I don't agree with it, I have nothing to do with it, nor do I have any responsibility. I am totally innocent," he replied, asked by the judge if he understood the charges.
"I do not accept it (the accusation). I do not agree with the two-year delay, but come on, I am completely innocent," said Veseli, criticizing that the Court took more than two years to start the trial, time that the defendants they went to prison.
Whiting, who claimed "the interests" of the victims who have waited 25 years to see the suspects in court, warned that "this case is not a UCK trial, it does not accuse everyone in the UCK, and if someone says That's just not true."
"The case accuses four men of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in 1998 and 1999. The vast majority of UCK members have absolutely nothing to do with this case or the crimes charged in the indictment. It is just what these four men did," he reiterated
In addition, the prosecutor regretted that "a challenge that will be presented throughout this case is the climate of witness intimidation in Kosovo, which is real and pervasive", and the reason why the TEK, which is part of the legal system Kosovar, is in The Hague. "The intimidation continues to this day," warned the prosecutor.
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