Former militant commander Salih Mustafa has been sentenced to 26 years for atrocities committed during the 1998-1999 conflict
The Netherlands-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers has sentenced Salih Mustafa, a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a guerrilla group comprised of ethnic Albanians, to 26 years behind bars for war crimes committed during the 1998-1999 conflict with Serbia.
The court’s first war crimes verdict was passed on Friday, with Mustafa being found guilty of murdering one prisoner and torturing several others at a KLA compound in Zllash, Kosovo, in April 1999. The former militant commander was acquitted of another charge of mistreating detainees.
Mustafa, who was arrested in 2020 in Kosovo, had pleaded not guilty on all counts.
Presiding judge Mappie Veldt-Foglia described the verdict as a “milestone for the specialist chambers,” expressing hope that it could lead to “further reconciliation among communities in Kosovo” in the future.
The bloody conflict, which played out in 1998 and 1999, saw the Serbian military pitted against Albanian separatists. In March 1999, NATO launched a massive aerial bombardment campaign against military targets and critical infrastructure in what was then known as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The Western intervention eventually led to the secession of the region from Serbia, with Kosovo declaring independence in 2008.
While the US, UK and much of the EU recognized the breakaway region’s independence, Russia, China, India and several other nations opposed the declaration.
On Thursday, Kosovo formally applied to join the European Union.
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers’ decision came at a time of heightened tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, with Belgrade accusing Pristina of discriminating against the Serbian ethnic minority in the breakaway region.
Up until this date, the majority of politicians and military commanders prosecuted over war crimes during the Kosovo war and preceding conflicts in former Yugoslavia have predominantly been ethnic Serbs.
One of the most prominent convicts was the former president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, who died in his prison cell in The Hague before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) could deliver its verdict.
Former Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, along with three former KLA militants, is currently awaiting trial at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers. Pre-trial judge Nicolas Guillou revealed in early November that he expected the process to kick off by the end of the year.