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Former Kosovar War Commander Questioned At Hague Court

Rrustem Mustafa (right) in The Hague on January 14
Rrustem Mustafa (right) in The Hague on January 14

A former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) has been interviewed at a controversial special court in the Netherlands about his role during Kosovo's 1998-99 war of independence from Serbia.

Rrustem Mustafa and his attorneys met with members of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor's Office at The Hague on January 14 for a round of questioning.

Mustafa told journalists as he entered the court building that "he will answer all the prosecutor's questions."

He is expected to meet with court officials on January 15 as well.

Sami Lushtaku, another UCK commander, was due to be interviewed by the court on January 16.

Mustafa and Lushtaku were important figures during the uprising against Serbian forces and have been politically active in the Democratic Party of Kosovo during the last 20 years.

Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who was acquitted in a UN court of war crimes and crimes against humanity, met with Mustafa and Lushtaku on January 13 ahead of their visit to The Hague.

Haradinaj proclaimed the UCK's role during the 1998-99 war to be "clean and sacred."

Kosovar President Hashim Thaci, who also fought with the UCK, wrote on Facebook that the two men are "national war heroes" who will "always remain as such for the Kosovar institutions and the people."

Many Serbs say UCK fighters committed atrocities against the minority Serbian community of Kosovo, which has about 2 million citizens.

"This tribunal presents the last chance to shed light on the assassinations in Kosovo," said Beriana Mustafa, a journalist who lives in Pristina and whose father was killed near his home after he criticized UCK commanders.

"Hope is always the last to die," said Natasa Scepanovic, the leader of an association of Serbian victims that is hoping for prosecutions against UCK members they say committed crimes.

The body of Scepanovic's father was discovered in 2003, several years after he was killed. Her mother is one of about 1,700 people still listed as missing from the Kosovar war.

The court, which is funded by the European Union, was made possible by a law passed by Kosovo's parliament in 2015 under pressure from the EU, the United States, and international organizations.

But it only became operational two years later when rules for procedure and evidence were adopted by the parliament.

Although the judges, prosecutors, and other court officials are from various countries, the court is being administered under the laws of Kosovo.

The court's establishment led to great opposition within Kosovo and particularly among UCK veterans, who believe that Serbs who are alleged to have committed crimes in Kosovo in 1998-99 should also be interviewed by prosecutors.

But many leaders of Serbian forces have been tried and sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

A group of Kosovar legislators organized a petition to abolish the court that was signed by several thousand citizens.

At least 2,800 people were killed and hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes during the Kosovo war, which ended after NATO warplanes forced Yugoslav forces to pull out of Kosovo.

The former Serbian-ruled region declared independence in 2008 and has been recognized by more than 110 countries, but not by Belgrade.

With reporting by AP and AFP