World

Former Kosovo Liberation Army commander convicted of war crimes

Salih Mustafa, a former Kosovo rebel, was convicted of war crimes (Peter Dejong/AP)
Salih Mustafa, a former Kosovo rebel, was convicted of war crimes (Peter Dejong/AP)

A former commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) has been found guilty of murder and arbitrarily detaining and torturing prisoners perceived as supporters of Serbia during Kosovo’s conflict to break away from the larger nation.

It is a “milestone” first war crimes conviction by a special court based in the Netherlands.

Salih Mustafa was sentenced to 26 years’ imprisonment for the crimes committed at a KLA compound in Zllash, Kosovo, in April 1999. He was acquitted of one charge of mistreating detainees. He had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Friday’s judgment comes at a time of tense relations between Kosovo and its neighbour, with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday demanding that Serb security forces return to the breakaway former province despite warnings from the West that such calls are unlikely to be accepted and will only stoke tensions in the Balkans.

Mustafa was arrested in 2020 in Kosovo and sent to the Netherlands to stand trial at the European Union-backed Kosovo Specialist Chambers, a branch of the country’s legal system set up to deal with allegations of war crimes committed as ethnic Albanian rebels united in the KLA fought to break away from Serbia in 1998-99.

Presiding judge Mappie Veldt-Foglia called the judgment a “milestone for the specialist chambers” that could lead to “further reconciliation among communities in Kosovo”.

The victims were accused by KLA fighters of collaborating with Serbs or not supporting the KLA.