KLA faces trials for war crimes on Serbs Inquiry turns on Albanians
Sunday Times (UK)
July 21st 2003
Tom Walker, Diplomatic Correspondent
INTERNATIONAL war crimes investigators are for the first time focusing on atrocities against Serbian civilians that were committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
Sources close to prosecutors in the Hague confirmed last week that its forensic experts were checking five sites where war crimes were allegedly carried out by members of the KLA. Their findings could lead to a request to Nato's Kfor troops to arrest several senior figures in the new Kosovo Albanian elite, including Hashim Thaci, the KLA's former political leader, or Ramush Haridinaj, one of his main political rivals.
United Nations sources have already revealed that Agim Ceku, the guerrillas' former commander, may be the subject of a secret "sealed" indictment for his activities while fighting for the Croatian army against the Serbs. Like Thaci and Haridinaj, Ceku, who now heads the Kosovo Protection Corps, the local defence force, has denied wrong-doing.
The investigation could radically alter the international perception of the conflict, in which Albanians were seen as the largely innocent victims of Serbian aggression. After a year of growing concern about hundreds of revenge killings of Serbs by Albanians in the province, there are signs that the public relations pendulum may begin to swing the Serbs' way. The investigations by the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia are among its most secretive, with officials fearing retaliation by the Albanians. "The operations of the KLA clearly involved many activities we should scrutinise," said one Hague official. "There's a real problem in unravelling their cell structure, but we may well end up pointing the finger at senior figures. The difficulty then will be persuading any Nato nation to arrest them."
All five sites were discovered by the Serbian police as they regained territory lost to the KLA in the summer of 1998. As Albanian villages were being destroyed in the Serbian police offensives that grabbed the international media spotlight, the plight of the rural Serbian peasantry was often ignored and dozens of villagers and farmers were abducted, tortured and left in mass graves.
Three of the areas under investigation are thought to be the villages of Klecka and Glodjane and the town of Orahovac.
The killings in Klecka have been linked to Thaci, who now heads the Democratic party of Kosovo. The Belgrade media made great play of the discovery in August 1998 of what it claimed were 22 Serbian bodies in a lime kiln in Klecka.
Glodjane, further west in the Decane area bordering Albania, was fiercely contested by the Serbs and Albanians. In September 1998 the Serbian media centre in Pristina claimed that the bodies of 34 people had been found in a canal there. They were a mixture of Serbian farmers, some gypsies and Albanians suspected of being collaborators. The local commander at the time was Haradinaj, now head of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo.
In Orahovac, an ancient Balkan maze of cobbled streets and mixed ethnicities, at least 50 Serbs were abducted by the KLA in July 1998, never to be seen again. In the autumn hundreds of angry Serbs marched six miles through the hills to Dragobilj, the local KLA headquarters and one of the few places where Islamic mujaheddin fighters were seen. The protest failed to persuade the KLA to give any details of the missing Serbs. Most inquiries made so far have been met with silence and few witnesses are thought likely to be brave enough to reveal the brutality of the KLA. One former Albanian commander, who now lives in the West, told The Sunday Times that he saw two Serbian policemen tied to the backs of Jeeps and dragged to their deaths during the fighting around Glodjane. He said he had no intention of talking to the war crimes prosecutors and wished to forget Kosovo altogether.
"We're not permitted to make any interviews in Kosovo proper and that is a considerable hindrance," said Paul Risley, spokesman for Carla Del Ponte, the tribunal's senior prosecutor.
It is also not clear whether investigations into the KLA's activities can be extended into the period after Nato entered Kosovo in June 1999. Authorities in Belgrade claim there have been 1,041 murders in the province since then - with 910 of the victims being Serbs or Montenegrins.