PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — A European Union-backed war crimes court sentenced two leaders of a Kosovo war veterans’ association to 4 1/2 years in prison Wednesday for witness intimidation and obstructing justice.
The Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers said Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj prevented prosecutors “from effective investigations and prosecutions" of former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
The court found the two men guilty of intimidating witnesses by publicizing leaked confidential documents "pertaining to the investigations and internal work” of the prosecutors.
Gucati and Haradinaj publicly called witnesses “traitors,” “spies,” “collaborators” and “Albanian speakers” with the intention “to make witnesses and potential witnesses fearful and therefore hesitant to provide information,” the tribunal said.
The special court is investigating alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity linked to the actions of the KLA during the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo.
Prosecutors have indicted several people, including former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, on charges of murder, torture and persecution. All have denied the charges.
Gucati, who was chairman of the Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans Association, and Haradinaj, his deputy, were arrested in September 2020 for revealing case information, including the identitities of hundreds of witnesses and potential witnesses.
The two were acquitted Wednesday of retaliation after prosecutors failed to present evidence. It is not clear whether Gucati and Haradinaj would appeal their convictions and sentences.
Witness intimidation has been a major problem in international prosecutions of crimes committed during Kosovo’s 1998-1999 fight to break away from Serbia.
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers and a linked prosecutor’s office were established following a 2011 report by the Council of Europe. The human rights organization's report included allegations that Kosovo Liberation Army fighters trafficked human organs taken from prisoners, slain Serbs and fellow ethnic Albanians.
The court, established in The Hague in part as a response to fears for the safety of witnesses, is part of the Kosovo legal system.
Gucati's replacement at the veterans' association, Faton Klinaku, described the verdicts as “political” and “uniltaeral,” and accused the court of not dealing with alleged war crimes by Serbs.
More than 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, died during the war in Kosovo. About 1 million were driven from their homes before a NATO bombing campaign forced Serbia to pull its troops out of the country and to cede control to the United Nations and NATO.
Thousands of Serb civilians also fled with the Serbian army and police. Those who stayed behind later faced revenge attacks.
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. The United States and most of the West recognize Kosovo’s independence, but Serbia — supported by allies Russia and China — does not.
Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.