Kosovo’s ‘Commander Cali’ Insists on Innocence Despite Guilty Verdict

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Former Kosovo Liberation Army unit commander Salih Mustafa told an appeal hearing in The Hague that he feels innocent despite being sentenced to 26 years in prison for war crimes including arbitrary detention, torture and murder.

At the second day of appeals hearings at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague on Friday, former Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA unit commander Salih Mustafa accused the prosecution of twisting the evidence against him, and insisted he was innocent despite the verdict convicting him of arbitrary detention, torture and murder during the Kosovo war in 1999.

“Practically and morally, I feel innocent even though judicially the court found me guilty, due to the fact that I am certain that I have not committed any of the crimes I’ve been accused of by the prosecution for three years,” Mustafa, who was known during wartime by the nom de guerre Commander Cali, told the court.

Mustafa said that he is convinced that the prosecution is aware that he did not commit such crimes.

“I am certain that the prosecution, willingly, has turned all the arguments upside down without viewing them from the initial declarations of the prosecution witnesses up to the decision of the trial panel,” he said.

Mustafa is calling on the court to acquit him, grant a retrial or reduce his 26-year sentence.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers found Mustafa guilty in December 2022 of three war crimes charges including the arbitrary detention and torture of at least six detainees and the murder of one prisoner. He had pleaded not guilty.

In April 2023, the trial judges ordered Mustafa to pay compensation of 207,000 euros for the harm inflicted on the victims.

Victims’ Counsel Anni Pues, who represents the victims in the case, told the court that Mustafa is guilty and that he “should have known better since he was the commander” of the KLA unit that ran the detention compound in Zllash/Zlas where the crimes were committed.

The judges found that Mustafa personally participated in the torture of two detainees and that his failure to order the release of one wounded prisoner directly led to his death.

“Mustafa knew and certainly foresaw that leaving someone like that would lead to death,” said Pues.
The judge said during the trial that there were allegedly three main causes of the prisoner’s the death: severe mistreatment inflicted by Mustafa’s subordinates for almost three weeks and subsequent denial of medical care, which were directly attributable to Mustafa, plus gunshot wounds.

The verdict said it wasn’t clear whether the prisoner was shot by members of Mustafa’s unit or Serbian troops.

“If heavily injured persons are being left like that and then maybe these persons are murdered by Serbian bullets, this in itself does not constitute a new event that can break the causation chain and cannot dilute the criminal attribution to Mr. Mustafa,” she added.

The prosecution told Friday’s hearing that the 26-year sentence should remain even if the appeals panel overturns parts of the conviction, because the trial panel rightfully confirmed that Mustafa is responsible for knowingly causing injuries that could lead to death.

“The sentence with 26 years imprisonment is appropriate and proportional,” prosecutor Claire Lawson told the court.

The court said it will hand down the verdict “in due course”.

The Specialist Chambers are part of Kosovo’s judicial system but are located in the Netherlands and staffed by internationals, established under pressure from the country’s Western allies, who believe Kosovo’s own justice system is not robust enough to try KLA cases and protect witnesses from intimidation.

However, many Kosovo Albanians believe that the court is ethnically biased and denigrates the KLA’s just war against Serbian repression.

Source : Balkaninsight