Kosovo tribunal convicts veterans' leaders over witness intimidation

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THE HAGUE (Reuters) - In its first ever judgment a special tribunal in The Hague jailed two leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) on Wednesday for revealing names of hundreds of protected witnesses involved in war crimes cases.

Judges at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers found that Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj, who ran the KLA veterans association, in September 2020 gave Kosovo media and politicians confidential court documents that included names and personal data from witnesses involved in war crimes investigations.

"This judgment clearly paints these acts for what they are: criminal not patriotic," president judge Charles Smith said.

He added that the men used insults and contempt in addressing those who chose to co-operate with the court and "spoke in terms that could only have been intended to persuade them not to provide further evidence to the Special Prosecutors office nor to testify in any future trial"

Both men, who have been in custody since their arrest in Sept. 2020, were present in court.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers, a Kosovo court seated in the Netherlands and staffed by international judges and lawyers, was set up in 2015 to handle cases under Kosovo law against fighters of the KLA.

It is separate from a U.N. tribunal, which was also located in The Hague and tried officials from all over the former Yugoslavia for the 1990s Balkans wars, including several Serb officials and former KLA members for crimes committed in the Kosovo conflict.

Judges found both men guilty of charges of obstructing justice and sentenced them to 4.5 years in prison and a fine of 100 euros.

The veterans' association wields considerable influence in Kosovo, where many former KLA fighters are now in political positions and KLA veterans are celebrated as national heroes.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg, Editing by William Maclean)