Leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) War Veterans Association have pleaded innocent to charges of obstructing justice and intimidating witnesses at a war crimes tribunal in the Netherlands.
Hysni Gucati, and his deputy, Nasim Haradinaj, entered their pleas October 7 at the opening of their trial at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague.
Both men face charges for allegedly revealing information including the identity of potential witnesses at the court, which is mandated to investigate and prosecute suspects in war crimes committed during Kosovo's 1998-99 guerrilla uprising against rule from Belgrade.
Witness intimidation has been a major problem as investigators built their cases, and the court has struggled to protect people who offer to assist its investigations.
“Mr. Gucati and Mr. Haradinaj are vocal opponents of this institution, denigrating anyone who would recognize or cooperate with the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, or the specialist prosecutor’s office as spies, collaborators, and traitors who betrayed their fellow countrymen,” Specialist Prosecutor Jack Smith told the judges.
The veterans’ association represents former ethnic Albanian separatists who fought Serbian troops during the Kosovo War, in which more than 10,000 were killed.
The most prominent Kosovar to be indicted to date is former President Hashim Thaci on charges of murder, torture, and persecution. He has denied the charges.
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after the end of the fighting.
The United States and most of the West recognize Kosovo’s independence. Serbia does not, however, and tensions between Kosovo and Serbia persist.
A NATO-led peacekeeping mission deployed to the two countries’ shared border earlier last week amid tensions that were triggered by a dispute over vehicle license plates.