European Union and local analysts warn of the need of better protection for informants.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 28/08/13
EULEX police are investigating murders committed more than 20 years ago. [AFP file]
Three imprisoned Kosovo Albanians have agreed to co-operate with EULEX in the investigation of murders committed two decades ago of high-profile officials.
The prisoners, each sentenced to more than 30 years in prison, were identified by the Kosovo daily Express on August 25th and are purportedly testifying about crimes that include the fatal shootings of Xhemajl Mustafa, a senior adviser to the late president Ibrahim Rugova, in 2000; the 2000 death of Rexhep Luci, chief architect of Pristina; and the 2003 shooting death of Tahir Zemaj, former chief commander of the armed forces.
All were encouraged to step forward, reports said, based on leniency shown in the criminal case against Nazim Bllaca, a former Kosovo Information Service member who received reduced prison sentences after testifying about murders and other post-war crimes.
Bllaca testified in a number of trials against his former superiors and collaborators on murders done after 1999 and got the status of co-operating witness. He was sentenced to less than five years in prison for his crimes.
While EULEX officials did not deny the reports, they are displeased that the co-operating convicts were named by the media.
"It can hamper investigations, it can cause delays in trials, it can even lead to their collapse and it can jeopardise personal security of witnesses," Irina Gudeljevic, a spokesperson for the mission, told SETimes.
The death of former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Agim Zogaj in 2011 prompted EULEX and the interior ministry to sign a witness protection agreement in 2012.
Zogaj, who was under house arrest while awaiting trial on war crimes charges, was a key witness against former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Fatmir Limaj when he was found hanging from a tree in Germany. His death was ruled a suicide but prompted many critics and debates on the efficiency of the witness protection system.
Observers told SETimes that there should be more protection for witnesses in criminal cases.
"It is totally wrong if we say that Bllaca has encouraged other witnesses, especially having in mind that the state bodies and those international have left a witness such as Nazim Bllaca be exposed to the danger for elimination," Betim Musliu of the Kosovo Law Institute told SETimes.
Avni Zogiani, executive director of Kosovo NGO Cohu (Stand Up), said a lack of protection keeps many witnesses from coming forward.
"UNMIK and EULEX on the other hand have not protected the witnesses. That has discouraged a lot the people to denounce crimes in which politics is involved because simply, politics with its power also endangers them physically, but also risks to use this influence to discredit them," Zogiani told SETimes.
Gudeljevic said that EULEX would not comment on ongoing investigations.
"EULEX understands and fully supports the notion of the public being informed about rule-of-law actions. We do inform media as soon as legal procedures allow and security of witnesses is not jeopardised," Gudeljevic told SETimes.
In what kind of cases should prosecutors offer reduced prison sentences for co-operation? Add your thoughts below.