Protected witness L-96, a Kosovo Albanian who was detained in Lapusnik was both a victim and an eyewitness of many of the crimes described in the indictment against three former KLA members, including the killing of ten detainees on the Berisa mountain in late July 1998

Isak Musliu, Hajradin Bala and Fatmir Limaj in the courtroomIsak Musliu, Hajradin Bala and Fatmir Limaj in the courtroom

Judging by what was heard in the past three days in the rare moments when the session was open to public, “L-96” could be one of the crucial prosecution witnesses at the trial of three former KLA members charged with the crimes in the Lapusnik camp.

The witness, a Kosovo Albanian, was detained in Lapusnik because he had been looking for a "missing person close to him". He was both a victim and an eyewitness of many of the crimes described in the indictment, including the killing of ten Kosovo Albanian detainees on the Berisa mountain in late July 1998. He described and identified all three accused: camp guard Haradin Bala nicknamed Sala, who gave the detainees food and water and beat them from time to time; Isak Musliu, whom he would see in the camp wearing a military police uniform and whose karate kicks the witness tested himself, and finally, the first accused, Fatmir Limaj, nicknamed "Commander Celiku".

The witness saw Limaj on the crucial day – 26 July 1998 – when KLA members evacuated the Lapusnik camp in the face of an offensive mounted by the Serbian forces and took the remaining twenty-odd prisoners towards the Berisa mountain. As they were resting underneath a cherry tree on the mountain, "Commandant Celiku" came and stayed there for several minutes, talking to Haradin Bala, 5-6 meters away from the detainees. The witness claims that he was able to see Celiku quite clearly; he later identified him as Fatmir Limaj.

The detainees were escorted by the prison guards Bala and Murizi, and a third soldier who had been left there by Commander Celiku. After his departure, Bala called out the names of about a dozen prisoners and told them he would he taking them to a different location. The witness and some ten other detainees stayed underneath the cherry tree until Bala returned, and then they were escorted up a mountain path.

When they reached a clearing, Bala told them to stop and to sit down. The witness saw the guards "take positions": Bala in the middle, Murizi to the left and the third soldier to the right. All three "cocked their Kalashnikovs" and Bala said to the group: "This is your death sentence", as the witness stated.

What happened next was described in closed session. Apparently, the witness succeeded in escaping from the execution site. When the court returned to open session, he was saying that shots were fired after him as he ran and rolled downhill… until he finally managed to get away.

From what could be deduced from his testimony in public, the witness reported the crime on the Berisa mountain to the Serbian authorities in August 1998. Two yeras later he reported it to the representatives of the international community in Kosovo whom he took to the execution site, where they found the remains of the victims. He warned them that if the remains were left there that day "there would be no bones left tomorrow." The court went into closed session again, so it is not known what the representatives of the international community replied and whether they did anything in this regard.

Witness L-96 was first cross-examined by Michael Mansfield, Fatmir Limaj´s defense counsel. Most of his questions focused on why the witness did not mention Commander Celiku in his first statements to the Serbian police and the representatives of the international community, and did that only when the Office of the Prosecutor got interested in the Lapusnik case.

The witness replied that what mattered for him at the time was to "recognize and name the killers" and that at that time he was “not interested in the commander", as he "did not think that the commander had done anything bad… apart from assigning another soldier to Bala". This soldier was one of the killers.

This afternoon, witness L-96 will be cross-examined by the defense counsel of Haradin Bala and Isak Musliu.