Two leaders of a Kosovo veterans association pleaded innocent Thursday to charges including obstructing justice and intimidation of witnesses, as their trial opened at a court in The Hague.
Hysni Gucati, who was chairman of the Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans Association when he was arrested last year, and his deputy, Nasim Haradinaj, both face charges of obstructing justice and intimidation in September last year for allegedly revealing information including the identity of potential witnesses at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers court.
Both men told Presiding Judge Charles Smith III they were innocent of all charges.
“I am always against injustice,” Haradinaj said.
Witness intimidation has been a major problem in international prosecutions of crimes committed during Kosovo's 1998-1999 fight to break away from Serbia and the Hague-based court is working hard to protect the people who offer to assist its investigations.
The veterans association represents former ethnic Albanian separatists who fought Serbian troops in the war for independence. The special court is investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity linked to the conflict.
It has indicted suspects including former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci on charges of murder, torture and persecution linked to the conflict. Thaci denies the charges.
The court and a linked prosecutor’s office was established following a 2011 report by the Council of Europe, a human rights body, that included allegations that Kosovo Liberation Army fighters trafficked human organs taken from prisoners and killed Serbs and fellow ethnic Albanians.
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. The United States and most of the West recognize Kosovo’s independence, but Serbia — supported by its allies Russia and China — doesn't.
Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia remain despite EU-brokered talks to normalize relations between Pristina and Belgrade that started in 2011. Soldiers with a NATO-led peacekeeping mission are currently keeping watch at the Kosovo-Serbia border after the two countries reached a deal to deescalate tensions triggered by a dispute over vehicle license plates.