Kosovo Liberation Army Fighters Jailed for War Crimes
Three former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas known as the ‘Llapi Group’ have been convicted of torturing wartime prisoners and sentenced to a total of 13 years in prison.
BIRNPristina The court in Pristina found the three men guilty of war crimes against civilians at a Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA detention centre in Llapashtica/Lapastica during the 1998-99 conflict with Serbian forces.
Latif Gashi, now a lawmaker with the ruling Kosovo Democratic Party, was sentenced to six years in prison.
Rrustem Mustafa was sentenced to four years, while the third defendant Nazif Mehmeti was sentenced to three years.
The men collectively known as the the ‘Llapi Group’ –Gashi (known as Lata), Mustafa (known as Remi) and Mehmeti (known as Dini) – all held command positions within KLA.
The court’s verdict said that they “acted in concert with other unidentified individuals and pursuant to a joint criminal enterprise, ordered and participated in the beating and torture of Kosovo Albanian civilians detained in the detention centre located at Llapashtica/Lapastica, in an attempt to force those detainees to confess to acts of disloyalty to the KLA from October of 1998 until late April 1999”.
Jonathan Welford-Carroll, the EU rule-of-law mission, EULEX judge said that the men had “joint responsibility” for committing war crimes.
“Latif Gashi was at the centre of an interrogation system of beatings and torture… in his role as the head of KLA intelligence,” Welford-Carroll said while explaining the verdict.
“Although he was not the leader, Nazif Mehmeti was enthusiastic and brutal,” Welford-Carroll continued.
“Rrustem Mustafa had superior command responsibility to prevent and stop the acts, although it cannot be said that he ordered them,” he said.
But EULEX prosecutor Charles Hardaway stressed that the case was not aimed at the KLA itself.
“It must be clear that the KLA was not on trial here, the defendants were. It is paramount to understand that guilt is individual, not collective, and the court rightly found that these individuals committed unlawful actions,” Hardaway said.
The men rejected the verdict and said they would appeal.
|Latif Gashi giving statement to media after the verdict was given; Photo: Edona Peci|
“All that remains to us is the legal battle and we are convinced we will win it,” Mustafa said.
This was the third trial of the Llapi Group case and started at the end of March.
The case was first investigated in 2001 and 2002 by the UN mission in Kosovo.
In 2005, after a two-year trial which concluded with guilty verdicts for the defendants, Kosovo’s supreme court ordered a retrial because the allegations had not been proved “beyond all doubt”.
In 2009, the three former KLA commanders were again found guilty of war crimes and jailed for the torture and inhumane treatment of detention camp prisoners.
They appealed against the verdicts and in 2011, the supreme court ordered a partial retrial