The Hague: The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal opened the first retrial in its 18-year-history Thursday, with a prosecutor accusing the previously acquitted ex-prime minister of Kosovo of involvement in torture and murder.
Appeals judges last year ordered the retrial on six charges of former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and two other former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj, saying their original trial was reduced to a miscarriage of justice by widespread intimidation of witnesses.
Haradinaj was found not guilty along with Balaj in 2008, while Brahimaj was sentenced to six years for torture.
Prosecutor Paul Rogers told judges that all three were involved in torture and killings in 1998.
"The victims were beaten, tortured and in some cases murdered, regardless of their ethnicity," Rogers said.
He told judges that the victims were seen by Haradinaj and other KLA leaders as "collaborators, spies and those suspected of treachery" against the pro-independence force.
Outlining the allegations, Rogers cited a witness as saying one young Serb man was repeatedly beaten and had an ear sliced off by Balaj as Haradinaj watched. Brahimaj then ordered the Serb and two Roma men executed, Rogers added. The men were taken away and their bodies never found.
Haradinaj served as Kosovo's prime minister for 100 days in 2005 and was seen as a popular and charismatic leader who could unite Kosovo as it edged toward independence under U.N. administration. When his first trial started in The Hague, many in Kosovo saw it as sitting in judgment on their entire struggle for freedom.
But Rogers stressed Thursday that while the KLA was engaged in a legitimate fight for independence in 1998-99 in which it was entitled to use force, the campaign of torture and murder targeting civilians seen as opponents was illegal.
One witness who refused to testify at the original trial, Shefqet Kabashi, was taken into custody by the tribunal Thursday to face contempt of court charges.
Haradinaj's lawyer Ben Emmerson said in court that prosecutors would call Kabashi, a former KLA fighter, to testify Friday, but that it remains unclear if he will answer their questions.
The tribunal scheduled an arraignment for Kabashi on a contempt of court charge Friday morning. Haradinaj's trial was to resume Friday afternoon.
The tribunal said in a statement that Kabashi's testimony "is relevant to the retrial ... as it relates to the defendants' alleged responsibility for crimes committed at the KLA headquarters" and a prison the force ran in the village of Jablanica.
First Published: Thursday, August 18, 2011, 23:09