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Judge At Kosovo Court Alerts EU Diplomats To Attempts To Undermine Court's Work

Ekaterina Trendafilova, president of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, speaks at a press conference in Pristina in November 2017.
Ekaterina Trendafilova, president of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, speaks at a press conference in Pristina in November 2017.

The head of a special court investigating war crimes allegedly committed during Kosovo's war of independence has told EU diplomats that the court is facing increased efforts to impede ongoing legal proceedings.

Kosovo Specialist Chambers President Ekaterina Trendafilova warned the diplomats last week in a confidential briefing that efforts to undermine the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) and the Specialist Prosecutor's Office (SPO) located in The Hague "have not stopped and will likely increase in various forms as the court proceedings take place."

The efforts include attempts to challenge the law that established the court in 2015, including efforts to amend it to allow the pardon of anyone convicted or a relocation to Kosovo.

"This certainly will put at stake the life, safety, and security of people who have or will be willing to cooperate with us," Trendafilova said, according to a transcript of the meeting seen by RFE/RL's Balkan Service. "Such changes would certainly have a chilling effect on witnesses, who may no longer want to appear, thus making it impossible for the specialist prosecutor to continue with his cases."

Trendafilova did not elaborate on who was behind the efforts or say how the changes would be implemented, but she urged EU diplomats to help fight back against the efforts.

A transcript of the briefing, which took place on February 11, was first obtained by Euronews.

A spokeswoman for the court confirmed to RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the meeting took place and described it was one of Trendafilova twice-annual meetings with EU diplomats on the status of proceedings at the court. The spokeswoman said Trendafilova summarized matters already addressed in public filings.

The KSC and SPO comprise a court mandated to look into allegations that members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1998-99 war.

It operates under Kosovar law but is based in The Netherlands to shield witnesses from intimidation.

Among the defendants facing trial is former Kosovar President Hashim Thaci, who was a UCK commander during the war. Thaci resigned as president in November after learning the KSC had confirmed an indictment against him on charges of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Thaci and two other former members of the UCK were transferred to the KSC detention facilities on November 5.

Trendafilova, who is Bulgarian, also urged European countries to consider agreements that could allow witnesses and their families to be relocated to Europe.

"Without these agreements, it will be very difficult if not impossible in some cases to ensure that testimony can be given freely and without any fear," Trendafilova said.

Trendafilova said it was still unknown when Thaci's trial will start, but the trials of other defendants are moving ahead, with the trial of Salih Mustafa, one of the founders of the UCK who had already been transferred to The Hague to face similar charges before Thaci and the other UCK commanders were charged, is set to begin on March 1.

Among the other UCK commanders and officials facing trial at the KSC are Kadri Veseli, a former speaker of parliament and leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, and Rexhep Selimi, a Kosovar lawmaker.

Kosovo's war of independence from Serbia left more than 10,000 people dead -- most of them ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. More than 1,600 people remain unaccounted for.

Kosovo, which has a largely ethnic Albanian population, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by many Western states but not Serbia or its allies Russia and China.

The current government of Kosovo did not respond to RFE/RL's request for comment on Trendafilova's statements. The winner of the February 14 parliamentary elections, the Vetevendosje party, also did not respond to a request for comment.