The lawyer for former Kosovo Liberation Army unit chief Salih Mustafa told the Hague-based war crimes court that his client had no control over the area in which he is alleged to have held and killed prisoners.

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Kosovo’s ‘Commander Cali’ Didn’t Murder Prisoners, Lawyer Says

Salih Mustafa’s lawyer Julius Von Bone in court on Tuesday. Photo: Kosovo Specialist Chambers/Livestream.

The lawyer for former Kosovo Liberation Army unit commander Salih Mustafa told the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague on Tuesday that his client could not have been responsible for the crimes listed in the indictment because he did not have control over the area in which they allegedly happened.

“Salih Mustafa never stopped any person, never mistreated any person, never killed any person and did not order someone to do such a thing. He, like many others, is a patriot and fought for the liberation of his own country,” said Mustafa’s lawyer Julius von Bone.

Mustafa, a commander in the KLA’s wartime Llap Operational Zone in north-eastern Kosovo who was known by the nom de guerre ‘Commander Cali’, has pleaded not guilty.

The indictment charges Mustafa, who led the KLA’s BIA unit, with arbitrary detention, cruel treatment, torture and murder of civilians between “approximately April 1, 1999 and around the end of April 1999”.

The indictment claims that detainees were held at a KLA compound in the village of Zllash/Zlas and deprived of food, water, sanitation, hygiene, bedding and medical care, and were subjected to “beatings with various instruments, burning and the administration of electric shocks”.

Lawyer von Bone told the court that Mustafa was the commander of the BIA unit, but its operational zone did not include Zllash/Zlas.

“The areas of ​​BIA operations were urban areas, mainly [Kosovo’s capital] Pristina. BIA members stayed in the homes of civilians in order to rest or stay for short periods of time while on the move,” the lawyer said, describing Zllash/Zlas as a ‘safe zone’ for KLA members to rest or seek refuge from particularly intensive fighting in urban areas.

Von Bone insisted that Mustafa did not harm any of the victims.

“He firmly denies that he had any connection with them or that he caused them any harm. The victims, regardless of what they experienced, are simply wrong. The majority of the witnesses had never known Mr. Mustafa and none of them has identified him properly; the witnesses simply said a name without knowing who that person was,” he said.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers were established to prosecute KLA fighters for crimes committed during the guerrilla force’s 1998-99 war of resistance against Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic’s repressive rule. Mustafa is the first ex-KLA fighter to be tried there.

The Specialist Chambers are part of Kosovo’s justice system but are located in The Hague and staffed by internationals. They were set up under pressure from Kosovo’s Western allies, who feared that Kosovo’s justice system was not robust enough to try KLA cases and protect witnesses from interference.

But the so-called ‘special court’ is widely resented by Kosovo Albanians who see it as an insult to the KLA’s war for liberation.

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