PRISTINA – European Union security police arrested the leader of a Kosovar war veterans association for obstruction of justice when officers stormed its offices Friday, apparently to get hold of international prosecutors’ files from a war crimes investigation that the association said it received anonymously.
Hysni Gucati was arrested following an arrest warrant and transfer order by a pre-trial judge, according to a statement from the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office at the Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers. The prosecutors were assisted by police officers from the European Union Rule of Law Mission, or EULEX, and local police.
A statement said Gucati's “arrest warrant was issued for the suspect for offences against the administration of justice, namely intimidation of witnesses, retaliation and violation of secrecy of proceedings.”
The pre-trial judge's decision said Gucati “made available to the media confidential and non-public information and documents relating to the work of the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, and made no interventions when Nasim Haradinaj mentioned by name certain (potential) witnesses and gave information regarding their place of residence and other personal details ... thus exposing these individuals to potential threats to their safety.”
“Such disclosures have been made with explicit indifference to security risks posed to (potential) witnesses and with the aim of delegitimizing the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office and the Specialist Chambers, which he does not recognize,” it said.
EULEX police stayed at the association’s offices for about eight hours after which court officials were seen leaving and taking files and computers with them.
Members of the veterans’ association, which represents the former ethnic Albanian separatists who fought Serbian troops in a 1998-1999 war for independence, were prevented from going into the association's offices.
Attorney Tome Gashi also said that Gucati’s deputy, Nasim Haradinaj, refused to be taken into custody by EULEX police and was detained by Kosovar police.
Gucati has been transferred to The Hague, where a special court is investigating alleged crimes by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, during and after the Balkan nation’s war.
“We are against such a court. Full stop,” Haradinaj told journalists before the arrest, calling on Kosovo's government and parliament to react.
Neither Gucati nor Haradinaj had been summoned earlier from the court for questioning.
Faton Klinaku, the association's secretary, told reporters that police officers speaking different languages, including Kosovar police forces, had entered the offices in Pristina. An Associated Press video journalist observed police officers telling reporters to move away from the entrance.
Earlier this week, the war veterans group said that for the third time in two months an unknown person had provided war crime files from The Hague investigation. The veterans said they would make the files public.
Specialist Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Christopher Bennett said that releasing the documents would be “undermining the proper administration of justice” and making them public was a criminal act.
Former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, an ex-commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army, wrote on Facebook that “there is no reason for operations or storming because everyone will respond voluntarily to justice.”
Haradinaj himself was twice prosecuted and acquitted in another international war crimes court in The Hague. He resigned as prime minister last year when the Kosovo Specialist Chambers called him in for questioning.
On Thursday, The Hague-based court arrested a former KLA commander on charges including torture of detainees and the murder of one prisoner held at a compound in Kosovo. He was taken to the court’s detention center in Netherlands.
Kosovar President Hashim Thaci, former parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli and others have been charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, enforced disappearances, persecution and torture. Both men have denied committing any crimes.
A pretrial judge hasn’t made a decision on whether to proceed with their case.
Thaci said there was no need for spectacular actions because no potential suspect would escape justice. Leaking of the war crime files “has damaged the image of the Kosovo state and the rights of the potential defendant,” he said.
“The whole world knows that Kosovo is a victim. The KLA and the entire Kosovar people faced genocide and ethnic cleansing,” he said in a statement.
The 1998-1999 war for Kosovo’s independence from Serbia left more than 10,000 people dead — most of them ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, and more than 1,600 people remain unaccounted for. The fighting ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign against Serbian troops.
Kosovo, which is dominated by ethnic Albanians, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by many Western nations but not Serbia or its allies Russia and China.
Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.