Kosovo tribunal sentences former rebel to 26 years in prison in first war crimes verdict

Former guerilla commander ran 'torture prison' and was tried for four war crimes

Former KLA officer Salih Mustafa appears before the special tribunal on September 15. Reuters
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A tribunal at The Hague on Friday sentenced a former guerilla commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army to 26 years in prison.

Salih Mustafa was arrested in 2020 and charged with four counts of war crimes: murder, torture, cruel treatment and arbitrary detention.

Judge Mappie Veldt-Foglia handed down the panel verdict at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers.

The former commander ran a torture prison during the conflict with Serbia from 1998 to 1999. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

It is the court's first judgment dealing specifically with war crimes charges since it was established in 2015.

Prosecutors say Mustafa, nicknamed Commander Cali, and his men "brutalised and tortured" at least six fellow ethnic Kosovo Albanians accused of collaborating with Serbs, and kept prisoners in "grim conditions" in a village stable.

The commander personally took part in beatings, they said.

Twenty-nine witnesses testified during the 52 days in court.

The Kosovo war, which left 13,000 people dead, ended when Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic's forces withdrew after an 11-week Nato bombing campaign.

In May, the tribunal jailed two Kosovans for intimidating witnesses, and said the pair revealed details including names of hundreds of witnesses in September 2020.

Two witnesses were forced to relocate as a result of their actions, judges said.

The court operates under Kosovan law but is based in the Netherlands to protect witnesses from intimidation in Kosovo, where former KLA commanders have long dominated political life.

It has issued war crimes charges against senior members of the KLA — an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group — including former president Hashim Thaci.

- Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: December 16, 2022, 3:54 PM