Kosovo court prosecutor vows to protect witnesses

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The prosecutor for a special tribunal set up to try crimes committed in the Kosovo conflict in the late 1990s vowed Tuesday to do everything possible to protect witnesses, who could be "at risk from everything from death to intimidation".

The Kosovo specialist chambers, funded by the European Union and set up in The Hague late last year, was established to investigate and prosecute crimes allegedly committed by top members of the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) as it battled Serbian forces in the 1998-1999 war.

The accusations were included in a 2010 report to the Council of Europe, and detail claims of assassinations, unlawful detentions and organ trafficking, during and after the Kosovo guerillas' war of independence.

There has been fierce speculation over who could be targeted by the first indictments, including whether Kosovo's current president Hashim Thaci, the former political leader of KLA, is on the list.

Prosecutor David Schwendiman again refused to be drawn on any details of who could be targeted or when the first indictments may be issued.

But he acknowledged, during a meeting with reporters in The Hague, that his office was "attuned" to the risks facing potential witnesses.

"We will do everything we can to try and give them the comfort and protection they need to participate," he said, saying special measures were being taken.

Witnesses could be "at risk from everything from death to intimidation, or to coercion, or to bribery or other forms of influence and efforts to corrupt their evidence."

- 'Nobody will intimidate me' -

The tribunal was funded by the European Union with more than 200 million euros ($235 million) for five years to try crimes in Kosovo from January 1, 1998 to December 31, 2000.

Thaci was directly named in the 2010 report, along with several others of his inner circle. He has always denied the allegations, and told AFP last year that he has "nothing to hide".

Schwendiman also vowed he would not be "influenced or intimidated" by the politically charged atmosphere in Kosovo.

A survey presented by Thaci in September found most Kosovo Albanians believe the court to be unfair and more than half would protest if KLA fighters are charged.

Under the laws setting up the court -- which is run according to Kosovan law with the agreement of Pristina -- the prosecutor will "not to take instruction from anyone," he said.

"Nobody will tell me what to do. Nobody will influence me. Nobody will intimidate me."

And Schwendiman stressed that while he understands "the political sea in which I swim" he would also not be swayed by any impact his decisions may have "on political conditions or stability in the region".

"My job is to be governed by the law, by the facts and to hold individuals accountable for their conduct," he added.


© 2017 AFP

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