Daily on witness intimidation in Haradinaj case

BELGRADE -- Why do numerous eyewitnesses of notorious Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander Ramush Haradinaj’s crimes keep disappearing?

Everybody, including the Hague Tribunal, knows about murders of protected witnesses, daily Večernje novosti writes.

Public is once again deprived of key witness Shefqet Kabashi's testimony against Haradinaj. Even though he did not directly say that he was intimidated, the Serbian authorities claim that he is just one more in a series of witnesses that have been threatened by the former KLA commander.

According to Serbian War Crimes Prosecution's information, killings of witnesses in Kosovo, even those who were in the witness protection program, started back in 1999 and 2000. Ilir Selimaj and his wife Ferida were killed in an ambush near the town of Peć in mid-April 2003. It is believed that Haradinaj was behind the murders in order to prevent Selimaj from testifying against him in court.

It is also believed that Haradinaj was behind the murder of Tahir Zemaj, his son Enis and brother Hasan who were also killed near Peć. The reason for their murder was the same – to stop them from testifying against him.

Bekim Mustafa, Avni Elezaj, Smail Hajdaraj and Sadik Musaj were killed with the same motive. Kujtim Berisha was killed in a car accident in Podgorica in 2007, the War Crimes Prosecution’s information shows.

The first potential witness from the KLA Suad Ksoraj was executed in 1999. He went missing in Dečani and his burned body was found in a nearby woods. A note saying “Serbs killed him” was found next to him. His family reported his disappearance to UNMIK and KFOR and claimed that Haradinaj was behind it.

Hague Tribunal Spokeswoman Nerma Jelačić points out, however, that not a single witness who testified against Haradinaj and other indictees was killed.

“None of the persons who are mentioned on the list were in Tribunal’s witness protection program and none of them were under protective measures that Tribunal had determined in the Haradinaj case,” she stressed.

“Some of the murders that are being mentioned happened before the Tribunal started the investigation against Haradinaj and other accused in the case. Aside from that, it is stated that some of the persons were witnesses in a proceeding before the court in Priština, a trial in which the Tribunal had no part in,” Jelačić pointed out.

According to her, Berisha was the only witness who was scheduled to testify in Haradinaj’s trial. Montenegrin competent organs investigated the incident and there was no evidence that the car crash had been rigged.

“The Tribunal fully understands and accepts that public in Serbia has a legitimate interest to find out what is going on in the trials in The Hague and that it includes interest in safety of witnesses,” she said.

“However, claims that people who became Tribunal’s witnesses were killed are simply not true,” the Hague Tribunal spokeswoman explained.

It is still unknown whether Haradinaj will once again walk free out of the courtroom. Hague Tribunal Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz’s Advisor Frederick Swinnen has said that the Prosecution has other witnesses who are scheduled to testify in two weeks, adding that it is of key importance that they testify and that their testimonies are presented to the court.

“It is important to be very careful with this kind of cases due to circumstances they are conducted in. It is not possible to give any guarantees of success,” Swinnen stressed.