Sat, 31 Oct 2020

PRISTINA -- European Union police have arrested the head of the Kosovo War Veterans Association in Pristina in order to transport him to a war crimes tribunal in the Netherlands to face charges that have not yet been specified.

A statement from the Specialist Prosecutor's Office at the Hague-based tribunal said Hysni Gucati was arrested September 25 'on an arrest warrant and transfer order issued by a pretrial judge of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers.'

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers at The Hague is mandated to investigate and prosecute suspects in war crimes committed during Kosovo's 1998-99 guerrilla uprising against rule from Belgrade.

But the prosecutor's statement did not specify whether Gucati would face war crimes charges.

Witnesses said Gucati was handcuffed by masked police officers at the association's Pristina office on September 25 and taken away in an police car of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, or EULEX.

The Specialist Prosecutor's Office said EULEX 'provided operational and logistic support' to carry out the arrest 'in line with its mandate and in accordance with Kosovo legislation.'

It said the Kosovo Police (KP) also provided operational support for Gucati's arrest.

The War Veterans Association represents former fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), the ethnic-Albanian separatist militia group that fought against Belgrade's forces in Kosovo's 1998-1999 war for independence.

Gucati and his aides have published dozens of court documents in recent weeks with the names of suspects, witnesses, and civilians allegedly murdered during the war, which eventually led to Kosovo's independence from Belgrade in 2008.

The War Veterans Association has claimed that they received the documents from an anonymous source.

Tome Gashi, a lawyer for the War Veterans Association, said Gucati was 'never interviewed on war crimes charges and, based on the documents we saw, he may have been arrested on obstruction of justice charges.'

Christopher Bennett, a spokesman for the prosecutor at the Hague-based tribunal, said earlier this week that releasing the documents would undermine 'the proper administration of justice" and would be a criminal act.

Later on September 25, EULEX and Kosovo police also arrested Gucati's deputy, Nasim Haradinaj, in the Pristina suburb of Pejton.

He had told reporters after Gucati's arrest that the War Veterans Assocation does not recognize the authority of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers.

Ramush Haradinaj, Kosovo's former prime minister and a veteran UCK commander, wrote on Facebook after the police raid that 'there is no reason for operations or storming because everyone will respond voluntarily to justice.'

Haradinaj himself was twice prosecuted and acquitted by another international war crimes court at The Hague. He resigned as prime minister in July 2019 when the Kosovo Specialist Chambers last called him in for questioning.

Kosovar President Hashim Thaci, also a former UCK leader, said in a statement after the arrests that 'the publication of the files was unacceptable.'

'The citizens of Kosovo and the world expect the Specialized Chambers to respond adequately, professionally and transparently to the monstrous allegations' against UCK veterans, Thaci said.

'As history shows us, the Kosovo Liberation Army was a voluntary movement, part of Kosovo's civil resistance and struggle for freedom and independence, and was recognized as such by the international community,' he said.

'I emphasize that the recent leak of the files from the Specialist Chambers has violated the legitimacy of the court in the eyes of the citizens of Kosovo,' Thaci said. 'It has damaged the image of the State of Kosovo and the rights of the potentially accused.'

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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