June 23. 2024. 2:04

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Protests in The Hague as former-KLA trials start

Hundreds of Kosovars gathered in The Hague on Monday to protest against the trial of former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army who stand accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Special Chambers court was set up to try Kosovo Albanians for alleged war crimes committed during the 1998-1999 Kosovo-Serbia war. It has been controversial since the outset as no similar structure exists for Serbia, the aggressor in the conflict.

Protestors included citizens from Kosovo as well as members of its ethnic diaspora.

“We refuse to have our history distorted,” Tahir Citaku told BIRN, who were at the scene of the protest.

“We have come to protect our liberators, our people who have protected us and have been unjustly taken…We hope justice will prevail.”

On trial are central former members of the KLA, Hashim Thaci, former president, Kadri Veselin, former chairman of parliament, Jakup Krasniqi, former acting president; and Rexhep Selimin, a deputy of the Vetevendosja movement- all involved in leading the fight against the Serbian army, Yugoslav Army, and paramilitaries during the 1998-1999 Kosovo-Serbia war.

Another protestor lamented that instead of bringing criminals from Belgrade “who committed terrible massacres”, they have brought “liberators who fought in their own country.”

A protest was also held in Pristina on Sunday where throngs of citizens gathered to offer their support to their former leaders.

The four face charges of war crimes stemming from the conflict. Monday’s hearing served to familiarise the accused with the charges, while on 11 April, the hearing of some 300 witnesses relating to 140 victims will begin.

All four individuals denied all charges against them and maintained their innocence.

It is estimated the case will conclude by 1 April 2025, during which time the three will remain in prison in The Hague.

“This trial is of four people accused of committing terrible crimes during and after the war, when the fighting had stopped, including against people from various ethnic groups,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“It offers a chance after so many years for the victims to learn what happened and highlights the pervasive impunity that still hangs over the Kosovo conflict, and more broadly over the wars in the former Yugoslavia.”

However, Human Rights Watch noted that the conflict was marked by an “overwhelming majority” of crimes committed by Serbian and Yugoslav forces, including murder, rape, torture, forced displacement, and hiding bodies.

It continues that the Serbian government has refused to disclose the location of mass graves, adding, “Only a small number of Serbian military and political leaders have faced trial for war crimes in the Kosovo conflict, including former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

(Alice Taylor | Exit.al)