Limaj detention, retrial sparks EULEX criticism


EU calls on Kosovo political leaders not to interfere in the judiciary.

By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 06/12/12


Former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Fatmir Limaj. [AFP]

Kosovo's supreme court panel, presided over by a EULEX judge, ordered a new trial against former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander Fatmir Limaj and three others in connection with a war crimes case from 1999.

The defendants are charged with war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war in the Klecka detention centre. Limaj and the three others were placed in detention on November 26th, and will remain there for a month on the order of the Pristina District Court.

Almost all charges are based on the testimony of Agim Zogaj, known as Witness X, who was a prison guard at Klecka. Zogaj died in an apparent suicide in May, and the the court declared Zogaj's evidence as inadmissible and acquitted the four defendants of all charges, but the prosecution appealed the verdict.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said that no one should abuse the trust of legitimate Kosovo institutions, and called Limaj's detention persecution.

"No one has the right to downgrade the war of the KLA ... no one, including EULEX, who should not secretly, in the dark of the night, and behind the back of legitimate Kosovo institutions, arrest freedom fighters, Fatmir Limaj and his co-defendants," Thaci said.

In response to the prime minister's statement, the EU called on Kosovo institutions to respect the independence of the judiciary and support EULEX's work.

"As a fundamental principle of any modern, democratic society, political interference in the judicial process is unacceptable," Michael Mann, chief spokesperson for the EU foreign policy high representative, said.

Nicholas Hawton, EULEX chief spokesperson, told SETimes that political issues do not concern the mission. He added that co-operation with the Kosovo government regarding the rule of law is generally good.

Hawthorn said that the presiding judge gave reasons for his decision in ordering Limaj's detention.

"The risk of tampering with evidence existed in relation with all accused in view of the fact they were charged with alleged serious criminal offences, and that evidence from a protected witness had been ruled admissible by the Supreme Court earlier in the week," Hawton said.

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Adem Grabovci, parliamentary group leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), announced his party would seek a change to the EULEX mandate from the parliament. In June, EULEX's mandate was extended to June 2014, in accord with the Kosovo government.

Petrit Zogaj, director of FOL Movement, told SETimes that he does not take the PDK statement seriously.

"I think that recent statements to change the EULEX mandate by PDK are delayed because EULEX has received a [new] two-year term, and then, when it was discussed the continuation of the mandate for two years, [PDK] did not made such a demand," Zogaj said.

Limaj is deputy head of the DPK and former transport and telecommunication minister. In December his party will hold elections for a new leadership. He was considered the main opponent of the incumbent party leader Thaci.

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