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Kosovo veterans leader arrested on witness intimidation charges - tribunal

PRISTINA (Reuters) - The head of Kosovo’s war veterans group was arrested in Pristina on Friday and handed over to a war crimes tribunal in the Netherlands to face charges of witness intimidation, officials said.

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The Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, set up to prosecute war crimes committed during Kosovo’s 1998-99 uprising against Serbian rule, said a judge had issued an arrest warrant for Hysni Gucati.

Gucati will face prosecution for “offences against the administration of justice, namely intimidation of witnesses, retaliation and violation of secrecy of proceedings,” it added in a statement.

In recent weeks, Gucati and his aides had published dozens of court documents with the names of suspects, witnesses and civilians allegedly murdered during the uprising, which eventually won Kosovo independence in 2008.

Earlier this week the tribunal prosecutor’s office condemned the release of the documents as an attempt to “undermine the proper administration of justice”.

It said it was committed to “vigorously investigating and prosecuting” people who sought to expose potential witnesses.

Gucati, was handcuffed and bundled into an EU police car by masked officers in Pristina on Friday, witnesses said. There was no immediate comment on the charges from him or the War Veterans’ Association lawyer.

Later on Friday, local television showed EU and Kosovo police also arresting Gucati’s deputy, Nasim Haradinaj.

The Specialist Chamber was set up in The Hague in 2015 to handle cases of alleged atrocities by Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas during the uprising.

Kosovo-based investigations have been foiled by widespread intimidation in a country where clan loyalties run deep and former rebels are lionised. The tribunal was set up in the Netherlands partly to help ensure protection of witnesses.

In June, the chamber’s prosecutor charged Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, the former guerrilla commander, with war crimes and crimes against humanity including nearly 100 murders. A judge has yet to confirm the indictment, a step required for a trial. Thaci denies wrongdoing and remains in Kosovo.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Kirsten Donovan and Andrew Heavens