Former KLA member claims he was present in the Jablanica prison camp when Ramush Haradinaj punched two prisoners, a Serb and a Roma. Idriz Balaj cut them with a knife while Lahi Brahimaj beat them with a baseball bat

Ramush Haradinaj, Idriz Baljaj and Lahi Brahimaj in the courtroomRamush Haradinaj, Idriz Baljaj and Lahi Brahimaj in the courtroom

The trial for crimes against prisoners in the KLA prison camp in Jablanica continued with a testimony of the prosecution witness, who testified with image and voice distortion and a pseudonym, 81, as protective measures. The witness said he saw all three accused, Ramush Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj, abuse Roma and Serb prisoners. Some prisoners died afterwards. He is the first witness to make such claims, either at the first trial or at the partial re-trial of the former KLA commanders.

As the witness said, he was a member of the KLA special unit from the neighboring zone and was sent to Jablanica to assist the personnel there. The witness claimed that in the spring of 1998, during his first visit to Jablanica, he witnessed severe abuse of two young Roma prisoners and a Serb youth. They were brought from a damp basement of the KLA headquarters in Jablanica to Brahimaj’s office where they were interrogated. The prisoners were then taken out into the yard. Haradinaj and Balaj showed up soon afterwards. As the witness said, Haradinaj first started questioning the prisoners and then punched the Serb and one of the Roma prisoners. Balaj then approached the two prisoners, cut off one of their ears and stabbed them in the chest. According to the witness, Brahimaj too beat the prisoners with a baseball bat.

It was difficult to establish the time frame based on the evidence heard today, because the witness at one point said that one of the Roma prisoners was assaulted first in the HQ yard in Jablanica; immediately afterwards, he claimed the first person to be assaulted was the Serb. From his testimony, it appears that Brahimaj beat the witnesses with a baseball bat after Balaj inflicted serious injuries with a knife. The witness’s claims are more serious than the allegations in the indictment, which states that in May 1998 Balaj, in Haradinaj’s presence, took the Serb prisoner Ivan Zaric and cut off his ear, and then threatened to do the same to the two Roma, Agron Berisha and Burim Bejta. The defense lawyers will certainly focus on this inconsistency in the cross-examination. In August 2011, in their opening statement the defense lawyers indicated they would attack the credibility of the witness who, in their words, was ‘prone to deceit’.

As Witness 81 recounted, after the three prisoners were severely beaten, Haradinaj ordered the KLA soldiers to ‘take [them] to Drenica’. This phrase was used when somebody was to be killed. The witness and other KLA soldiers then took the injured prisoners to a nearby make-shift hospital where they died soon afterwards. Their bodies were taken to the Radonjic lake and thrown into it, the witness said. In September 1998, the Serbian police discovered dozens of bodies in the Radonjic lake canal. The indictment alleges that the bodies of the three Jablanica prisoners have not been found.

Two or three weeks later, the witness and six of his fellow fighters were once again sent to the Jablanica prison camp as reinforcements. There they were ordered to take two other Roma prisoners and a Serb to a neighboring village. After a month, the witness was sent to Jablanica for the third time, again for the same purpose. The witness claims he was present when a Serb police officer was beaten up. The witness was told that the prisoner’s name was Senad or Nenad. The man was abused in Lahi Brahimaj’s office. Brahimaj beat the police officer with a baseball bat and questioned him about the disposition of the Serbian forces while the police officer begged for his life. The witness said he didn’t know what happened to that police officer, but he thought, ‘it didn’t end well’. The only person listed in the indictment that fits the witness’s description is Serb police officer Nenad Remustar. He was beaten in Jablanica and was later taken out of the prison camp and killed.

In the final part of the examination-in chief, the witness said that he as a KLA soldier knew in the spring of 1998 that Ramush Haradinaj was the commander of the Dukagjin area and that Lahi Brahimaj’s brother Nazmi was the commander of the village of Jablanica. The defense of the accused will begin their cross-examination tomorrow.