A protected witness claims that Idriz Balaj, one of the three indicted KLA commanders, took away his two sisters. One was killed and the other is still missing. There is a problem, though: the prosecution has failed to call any evidence to corroborate that “the person the witness mentioned who has the same name as one of the accused really is the accused,” the judges noted

Idriz Balaj in the courtroomIdriz Balaj in the courtroom

As the second week of the prosecution case in the trial of three former KLA commanders drew to a close, the prosecution called its first witness who pointed the finger at one of the accused for the crimes committed against his family in 1998.

A protected witness testifying as Witness 19 is a Kosovo Albanian from a village in the Decani municipality, a few kilometers from Rznic. According to the indictment, the headquarters of the Black Eagles, a KLA special unit, was located in Rznic. The prosecution argues that the accused Idriz Balaj, also known as Toger – Lieutenant in Albanian – commanded the Black Eagles. In 1997, after his father died, his family was targeted by the KLA, the witness said. He was only thirteen at the time. The KLA targeted them because they were friends with a Serbian police officer by the name of Prascevic. The police officer was killed in March 1998 in the village where the witness lived with his family. The witness’s mother was injured in the incident and spent several weeks in the Decani hospital.

In late April or early May 1998, masked KLA soldiers in black uniforms took away witness’s sister, ‘S’, he said. She was forcibly mobilized, he explained. The sister visited the family only twice after that, always accompanied by KLA soldiers. The witness identified one of them as Toger. The sister was also in a black KLA uniform, but she was not armed. She told her mother “not to ask her anything, because she couldn’t say anything”. After the second visit, she disappeared and is still missing.

Several months later, KLA soldiers once more came to the witness’ house at night and took away the witness’s other sister, ‘M’. Witness 19 again saw among them Toger – the accused Balaj. Her body was found a couple of days later in the forest with gunshot wounds in the head and a number of cuts to the throat and chest. After she was buried, the witness and the remaining members of his family left the village in fear for their lives.

At the end of his examination-in chief, presiding judge Orie asked the prosecution if there was any evidence to corroborate that “the person the witness mentioned who has the same name as one of the accused really is the accused”. The prosecutor replied that it would become clear once other evidence has been called. However, he did not know if the investigators who had interviewed the witness in 2004 and 2005 had showed him a set of photographs to identify Balaj.

Judges found this claim peculiar and asked the witness whether he was shown a series of photographs in the course of his interviews. The witness confirmed this, saying that he was able to identify Toger – meaning Balaj – among a dozen or so photographs he was shown.

After that, the court heard the testimony of the interpreter who had been present at the witness’s interview in Pristina. The interpreter was heard in closed session. The investigator who conducted the interview will be examined later.

Judge Orie today summarized the current situation regarding this witness, “On the basis of the witness’s evidence it is impossible to effect a positive identification of the accused. The reasons for it may be that the identification was not attempted or was attempted but there is no evidence to show if it was positive or negative”.

The examination of Witness 19 will be concluded on Monday. After him, Witness 04 will speak about the same incidents. According to the pre-trial brief filed by the prosecution, this witness “positively identified” the accused Idriz Balaj a/k/a Toger on a photo board he was shown during his interview.