THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Kosovo’s former president Hashim Thaci pleaded not guilty on Monday to 10 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the alleged torture and killing of opponents.
Prosecutors have said Thaci was responsible for nearly 100 murders when he led the guerrilla uprising against Serbian forces in 1998-99 as commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
“Your honour, the indictment is completely without basis and I plead not guilty,” he told the Netherlands-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers.
Thaci, seen as a war hero by many in his country, resigned as president after the charges were announced in June. He was arrested and transferred to the tribunal’s detention centre on Thursday.
He and three other former KLA leaders are accused of overseeing illegal detention facilities where the movement’s opponents were kept in inhumane conditions, tortured and sometimes killed.
Defence lawyer David Hooper told the judge he would ask for the former president to be released pending trial, saying Thaci had cooperated with the tribunal up to now, and been instrumental in its formation.
The Kosovo Tribunal was set up in 2015 to handle cases relating to alleged atrocities by KLA fighters during and after the revolt. It was based abroad to minimize the risk of witness intimidation in a small country where clan loyalties run deep.
Many in Kosovo have accused the tribunal of unfairly targeting KLA fighters while many Serb alleged perpetrators of war crimes are not being prosecuted in Serbia.
The former United Nations Yugoslav tribunal did convict a handful of senior Serbian political and military leaders for atrocities committed in Kosovo during the 1998-99 conflict.
Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens
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