Fatmir Limaj, the accused in the trial of the former KLA members who have been indicted for the crimes against Serb and Albanian civilians in Lapusnik, changed roles today and appeared on the witness bench.

Fatmir Limaj in the courtroomFatmir Limaj in the courtroom

On the first day of testifying in his own defense, Fatmir Limaj (34) spoke about his childhood and adolescence in Kosovo in 1970s and 1980s, about the repression by Serbian authorities and inability of Albanian politicians in the first half of 1990s. He went on to talk about his joining the KLA in August 1996 and narrowly escaping arrest in January 1997 before he fled to Switzerland. He finally returned to Kosovo in March 1998, after the Prekaze massacre when Adem Jasari and more than 50 members of his family had been killed. That event, Limaj said today, precipitated his return to Kosovo.

Fatmir Limaj, also known as Commander Celiku, has been charged along with Isak Musliu and Haradin Bala for the crimes committed against Serb and Albanian civilians at the KLA camp in Lapusnik between May and August 1998. In response to the questions by his British defense counsel Michael Mansfield, Limaj explained that he had joined the KLA because of “Serbian repression and the failure by the political class in Kosovo to do anything concrete or change anything”, due to which “people had been left to fend for themselves, many of them emigrated, others hoped that things would change for the better, while others still looked for an alternative.” And that alternative was a “war for the liberation of Kosovo”, since the signals from the world – which viewed Kosovo as a human rights problem only – according to Limaj, “provided no hope for the resolution of the problem any time soon.”

Toward the end of January 1997, Serbian police conducted a major operation in which 100 suspected KLA members were arrested and three were killed. Fatmir Limaj escaped arrest because he was visiting a friend when the police surrounded his home. His father and his brother Demir were arrested instead. The father spent six months in prison, where he was maltreated although, Limaj said, “he had nothing to do with anything”, while his brother was sentenced to 8 years in prison. According to Limaj, Demir witnessed the massacre at the Dubrava prison where, as he claimed, more than 260 Albanian inmates had been killed in May 1999. Demir Limaj was transferred from Dubrava to a prison in Nis, where – Limaj said – he had been exposed to electrical shocks, beaten and starved so that not even his own mother, who got permission to visit in 2000, could recognize him. Demir was released from the Nis prison in 2001.

Fatmir Limaj will speak about the period that the indictment for Lapusnik crimes refers to in his testimony tomorrow. After that he is to be cross-examined by the prosecutor for two days.