Hague Tribunal set to rule in ex-KLA's retrial

THE HAGUE -- The Hague Tribunal will on Thursday announce its verdict in the case against Ramush Haradinaj and Idriz Balaj.

Ramush Haradinaj (FoNet, file)
Ramush Haradinaj (FoNet, file)

The ethnic Albanians, former commanders of the KLA, were charged with committing war crimes in Kosovo.

Haradinaj and Balaj were the first Hague indictees who twice come to court for the same crime - the murder of eight prisoners in a KLA camp in Jablanica.

The first judgment acquitted them of all charges, but the Appeals Chamber ordered a partial retrial in the case.

However, the new attempt to prove the responsibility of the two has not been without difficulty for the prosecution, and those with good knowledge of the circumstances in The Hague do not rule out that they will again be set free.

First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić said he "feared" that the pair would be acquitted.

Instead of the 39 counts of the original indictment, the new trial of Haradinaj and Balaj saw them charged with six. These included murder and torture of prisoners in Jablanica. As in the first trial, which ended up in acquittal due to a lack of evidence, the prosecution in the retrial faced similar problems - frightened witnesses who changed their statements or refused to testify at all.

"A protected witness has been murdered. There is the question of responsibility - how can someone who is under protection be murdered? One would guess that someone needed to be in charge of such an important witness. Another troubling issue is that many potential witnesses had been murdered. Of course, the Hague (Tribunal) will deny it, "said Bruno Vekarić, Serbia's deputy war crimes prosecutor.

He also noted that another issue was related to Tahir Zemaj, who was also killed. "Everybody knew that he made a huge statement against Haradinaj and that he was also supposed to be a witness in the Dukagjini case in Priština. He was killed in the most brutal manner possible. This happened to another 17 people. You know, in the procedural and legal sense, when you kill 19 people who have a direct or indirect knowledge of someone's crimes, then you really do not have a case," Vekarić explained.

The series of killings of Haradinaj's political opponents and people who were potential witnesses in the trial of Haradinaj's brother, also charged with war crimes, have been duly recorded by international intelligence services active in Kosovo. Their reports, which B92 has had access to, noted that in addition to Zemaj, Ilir Selimaj - "a person of interest to the Hague" - was also killed .

It is suspected that the evidence of the crimes committed in Kosovo was taken with them to their graves by the many members of the Musaj family, as well as two members of the Kosovo police. Yet, all the while international representatives duly issued guarantees for Haradinaj to be allowed temporary freedom during the breaks in the trial, while Hague judges allow him to use that time to get involved in politics.

"No Serbian defendant was granted those conditions - that they may become involved in politics. Imagine if they allowed this to Mr. (Vojislav) Šešelj and that he engaged in politics before the verdict had been delivered. For me this is an ominous hint of what could happen at the tribunal. But, as this was happening even during the previous stage of the proceedings, it is something someone, primarily from the Tribunal, should explain," Vekarić concluded.

In Serbia, the War Crimes Prosecution has linked Haradinaj with 78 events in three cases, i.e., with the murder of 70 people in Kosovo. All this evidence, according to Vekarić, was available to the Hague prosecution. Meanwhile in Priština, they believe that Haradinaj will be acquitted and are preparing to welcome him.

The media have been speculating for days that Ramush Haradinaj will in fact become Kosovo's prime minister once again, while Hashim Thaci will assume the role of president. In this way, Haradijan would be made "chief negotiator" when the Belgrade-Priština dialogue resumes.