Ex-KLAs sent to prison for 101 years

BELGRADE -- The Belgrade Higher Court today found nine former members of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guilty of war crimes.

The entrance to the courtroom (Tanjug)
The entrance to the courtroom (Tanjug)

They were sent to prison for a total of 101 years for torturing, raping and murdering Serb and other civilians in the eastern Kosovo town of Gnjilane.

The nine ethnic Albanian men, members of KLA's Gnjilane Group, took part in burning the homes and murder of some 80 civilians of Serb and other non-Albanian ethnicities, from June until September 1999.

Those found guilty today took part in 32 murders, the court said.

Judge Snežana Nikolić-Garotić read the verdict and said that the group also engaged in illegal imprisonment of 153 people, who were later released.

The defendants received sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years. Those in custody in Belgrade will remain there until the verdict becomes final, while those recently released have been prohibited from leaving Preševo.

The judge said that the court fully accepted the truthfulness of testimonies of witnesses C1 and C2, who were subjected for several days of particularly degrading rape.

"Their testimonies were convinving and backed up by medical documents and forensic findongs. When they were released on June 23, 1999, the victims were told to leave Kosovo and tell other Serbs who were thinking of returning to Kosovo what they can expect," Judge Nikolić-Garotić explained.

The court also believed the testimony of other protected witnesses, including a former KLA member who testified as "Božur 50", she said.

Previously, almost two years after their arrest in Preševo, southern Serbia, five defendants were released from custody, while others remained in jail until the end of the trial.

The former KLA members indicted in the case are: Ahmet Hasani, Nazif Hasani, Ferat Hajdarij, Kamber Sahiti, Burim Fazli, Faton Hajdari, Samet Hajdari, Selimon Sadiku and Agus Memisi.

Fazlija Ajdari, Redžep Aliji and Sacir Saciri were indicted for ordering the crimes. They are still at large and were tried in absentia.

They ordered the group to imprison Serbs in the basement of a local boarding school, where the civilians were tortured, mutilated, and killed.

The indictment stated that the victims had their nails pulled out, tongues stabbed with knives, lighters hammered into skulls, and were in the end choked with plastic bags and garroted with wires.

To conceal their crimes, the killers dismembered the bodies and threw them into nearby dumpsters, and in Lake Livočko.