5 May 2012
The Klecka case, considered the biggest war crimes trial in Kosovo, was closed on Wednesday (May 2nd) with the defendants being released of all charges. The ruling sparked negative reactions, and questions about other war crimes trials in the country.
A panel of two EULEX judges and a local judge in the Pristina District Court found former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) members Fatmir Limaj, Naser Krasniqi, Nexhmi Krasniqi and Naser Shala not guilty of all charges. They had been charged with committing war crimes against the civilian population and prisoners of war. Earlier, six other defendants were also cleared of all charges.
Limaj and 11 others were arrested in March 2011 after they were accused of ordering and conducting torture in a Kosovo camp in 1999. Limaj is a former transport and telecommunication minister and an MP under Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party (PDK).
Thaci welcomed the verdict. "We have always given full support to justice, because we fully believe and have been convinced of the innocence of commanders and fighters of the KLA."
In Belgrade, outgoing Serbian Minister for Kosovo Goran Bogdanovic called the verdict "scandalous and humiliating for the victims."
The Serbian War Crimes Prosecution described the decision as "unjust and disgraceful, above all towards the victims seeking justice."
"This begs the question of whether anyone will ever be convicted for committing crimes against Serbs in Kosovo," read a statement released on Wednesday by prosecutors, according to B92.
A EULEX prosecutor from Kosovo's Special Prosecution Office has announced that he is appealing the rulings.
In March, the panel of judges in the case ruled that the statements and diaries of Agim Zogaj -- who committed suicide in September 2011 -- were inadmissible because the prosecution failed to meet procedural standards.
Betim Musliu, from the Kosovo Law Institute, told SETimes that EULEX's public image has taken a hit -- making citizens feel that cases against high-profile politicians are held deliberately to discredit the various figures.
"EULEX prosecutors have proven consistently unprofessional and incompetent in performing their mission. The series of trials against high profile political or influential positions in Kosovo are opened with no evidence and no proof," Musliu said.
Citizens and politicians have accused EULEX in the past of not dealing with war crimes committed by the then Yugoslav Army and Serbian police in Kosovo during the 1999 war, but rather focusing its efforts on the KLA and trying to minimise the crimes of Serbia.
"Kosovo's population has been the victim. There was an aggressor who has conducted genocide: the state of Serbia. Meanwhile, all these years, based on processes developed and trials for war crimes, it was attempted to change these roles. This is unacceptable for international justice," says Musliu, adding that EULEX needs to focus on its image.
"If we look at the results to date, we have a series of trials, which ended as a failure due to unprofessional and irresponsible work of EULEX. All these failures affect the poor image of the EULEX mission, from which expectations were enormous," Musliu said.
Muharrem Xhemajli, chairman of the Organisations of War Veterans of KLA, told SETimes that the case against Limaj was politically motivated.
"[We consider the verdict] against Fatmir Limaj and his comrades in the case of Klecka fair and reasonable. As veterans' organisations, we have mounted considering it a political process, knowing that KLA members are innocent," says Xhemajli.
The organisations requested EULEXís to deal with war crimes in Kosovo be revoked.
"In our opinion, EULEX should stop the investigation of war crimes it does to members of the KLA ... and must deal with Serbian criminals who have committed serious crimes against the Albanian population," Xhemajli said.
Gent Gashi, a researcher at the Public Policy Studies Centre, says Limaj will return to political life in Kosovo -- possibly as a candidate for party president.
"He is a member of parliament, and I suppose he will return to his job. While PDK prepares to [to elect] the chairman of the party this summer, Limaj might be a candidate against Thaci," Gashi said.