Protesters gathered in Pristina to call for the release of Nezir Mehmetaj, an alleged former Kosovo Liberation Army fighter who is on trial in Serbia for alleged killings and looting during wartime.

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Kosovo Protesters Urge Serbia to Free War Crimes Defendant

Protesters in Pristina on Monday. Photo: BIRN.

A group of relatives and supporters of Nezir Mehmetaj, an ethnic Albanian who has been in detention in Serbia for two years and went on trial last year on war crime charges, demonstrated on Monday in front of the government building in Kosovo’s capital Pristina.

Mehmetaj’s relative Verona Mehmetaj said that he was clearly innocent because he was not in Kosovo during the 1998-99 war.

“He has been employed in Switzerland for 30 years, and was not involved in the recent war in Kosovo,” Verona Mehmetaj said at the protest.

Nezir Mehmetaj was arrested two years ago at the Merdare border crossing between Kosovo and Serbia. He has been in detention in Serbia ever since.

He is accused of participation in war crimes against civilians in the village of Rudice in the Klina municipality of Kosovo in June and July 1999.

The prosecution claims he was involved in killing seven people and burning and looting ten houses belonging to non-Albanians in Rudice as a member of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

He is also accused of harassing members of the Roma and Egyptian ethnic minorities in Rudice.

Mehmetaj has denied the accusations.

He told Belgrade Higher Court in April 2021 that he left Kosovo in 1987 and went to Switzerland to work.

He said he only returned to visit his family once a year and did not go to Kosovo during the war in 1999.

Kosovo has called on Serbia to release Mehmetaj. In April 2020, then Foreign Minister Glauk Konjufca asked EU foreign policy representative Josep Borrell to use his authority to request Mehmetaj’s release.

In July 2020, then Justice Minister Selim Selimi asked the then head of the EU office in Kosovo, Nataliya Apostolova, to use her diplomatic power to convince the Serbian authorities to send Mehmetaj back to Kosovo.

Selimi argued that because he is not a citizen of Serbia and the alleged crimes occurred in Kosovo, Serbia has no jurisdiction over the case.

Selimi also claimed that evidence had already proved Mehmetaj is not the person who allegedly committed the crimes as a member of the KLA.

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