Prosecutors seek 35-year prison term for Kosovo ex-rebel accused of torture

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Former KLA officer Salih Mustafa appears before a special tribunal in The Hague

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - War crimes prosecutors called on Monday for a former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla commander to be sentenced to 35 years in prison for allegedly running a "torture chamber" during the 1998-99 independence conflict with Serbia.

Salih Mustafa faces charges of murder and torture over a detention centre in Kosovo where prosecutors say prisoners, mostly fellow Kosovo Albanians who were political opponents of the KLA, were beaten and tortured on a daily basis.

Mustafa's indictment says he personally took part in some of the beatings and torture of at least six prisoners and was present when one of them was so badly hurt that he later died.

"The truth is (...) certain KLA leaders like Mr Mustafa used their power to victimize and brutalize fellow Kosovars," including political opponents and others considered not loyal to the KLA, prosecutor Jack Smith told judges.

Mustafa, 50, has denied the charges and his lawyers have said prosecution witnesses fabricated their stories.

A verdict in the case is expected early next year.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers, a Kosovo court seated in the Netherlands and staffed by international judges and lawyers, was set up in 2015 to handle cases under Kosovo law against former KLA guerrillas.

The court is separate from the United Nations tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which was also located in The Hague where it tried and convicted Serbian officials for war crimes committed in the Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts.

More than 13,000 people are believed to have died during the 1998-99 uprising in Kosovo when it was still part of Serbia under then-President Slobodan Milosevic. Fighting ended after NATO air strikes on Serbian forces and Kosovo declared independence in 2008, though Belgrade does not recognize it.

Recent unrest among minority Kosovo Serbs over demands for them to use Kosovo identity documents has raised fears of renewed conflict between the two countries. Some 3,700 NATO peacekeepers continue to patrol the northern area of Kosovo to prevent violence between ethnic Albanians and Serbs.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg)