Evidence ruled inadmissible in KLA war crimes case
Fatmir Limaj released; a Priština court dismisses evidence of a now late witness, citing prosecution's failure to meet "certain procedural standards".Source: B92, Beta, Tanjug
Fatmir Limaj, a former leader of the ethnic Albanian so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and later a minister in the government in Priština, and a group of other KLA members are on trial for war crimes committed against Serb and ethnic Albanian civilians in the province during the 1999 war.
Today, a judge of the District Court in Priština ordered Limaj and nine other defendants released from custody.
Limaj was under house arrest since last September.
Previously, a panel of judges, composed of international and local members, dismissed as inadmissible the evidence given by the prosecution's chief witness, Agim Zogaj.
Zogaj was found dead, hanging from a tree in a park in Germany last September. The EU mission in Kosovo, EULEX, two months later officially announced that his death was a suicide.
Zogaj's testimony consisted of statements and wartime diaries, but the judges said the prosecution's failure to meet "certain procedural standards" rendered them inadmissible.
During less than two years that he spent as a member of the KLA, Zogaj wrote 49 pages in his diary, detailing the events in the village of Klečka that he took part in, thus securing evidence for a war crimes indictment against the ten KLA members.
Zogaj wrote that he was forced to execute some prisoners "because of Limaj", and also mentioned that there were four attempts against his life, once again accusing Limaj.
The prosecution and the defense have also been told by the court today to submit their closing statements in the case.
An EULEX spokesperson in Priština said the decision was made by a court council made up of two EULEX and one local judges.
Albanian language media, and Limaj's defense, believe that today's decision means that the entire indictment against him related to the Klečka war crime will now collapse.
Limaj and nine others are accused of kidnapping and murdering civilians and members of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) in a KLA camp in Klečka in 1999.
Limaj, who is now a member of the Kosovo assembly in Priština, was previously charged with war crimes committed in a camp in Lapušnik by the Hague Tribunal, but was set free for lack of evidence.
That trial, meant to bring justice to the 22 Serb and ethnic Albanian victims who were beaten, tortured and killed in the camp, was held in 2004 and 2005 in the shadow of warnings about witness intimidation, that came from then Chief Hague Prosecutor Carla del Ponte.
The war crimes in this case relate to 1998 - a year before the war broke out in the province, and to 1999, during the hostilities.
The ethnic Albanians who were targeted and murdered by the KLA were declared "collaborators".
This zone was commanded by Ramush Haradinaj, one of the leaders of the terrorist KLA, while Limaj was in charge of the Klečka zone.
First testimonies about the crimes in the area emerged as early as 1998, when former KLA members brothers Bekim and Luan Mazreku made statements for the Serbian justice officials, providing detailed testimony about war crimes committed against civilians.
In 2005, mass graves were discovered in Mališevo and Volujak. Klečka is near these two locations. The remains of murdered Serbs were found in a pit in Klečka in 1998.
The Mazreku brothers said at the time that Serbs kidnapped in Orahovac included women, children and men, and that they were transported to Klečka via Mališevo. They testified that they knew about ten civilians who were executed by firing squads, while three women who were raped.
After the war and the Hague trial, Limaj, a member of the Kosovo Albanian government in Priština, was a suspect in a corruption scandal, when EULEX police searched his offices and those of another minister, Nedzat Krasnici, on suspicion of corruption and abuse of office.
Limaj is also an official of Kosovo Prime Minister and former KLA leader Hashim Thaci's party, the PDK.