Justice Delayed

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A Netherlands-based tribunal has sentenced a former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrilla commander to 26 years in prison, the first war crimes conviction by the special court, which was established to investigate crimes during the 1998-99 independence war with Serbia, Radio Free Europe reported.

The Kosovo Specialist Chamber found Salih Mustafa guilty of the murder, arbitrary detention and torture of detainees at a facility in Zllash, Kosovo during the conflict. The detainees included fellow Kosovar Albanians, who were political opponents of the KLA and alleged supporters of Serbia.

The special court found that Mustafa participated in the beating and torture of at least two detainees and allowed his subordinates to mistreat another so harshly that he later died.

Mustafa has denied the charges and his lawyers accused witnesses of fabricating stories. Both the defendant and prosecution have 30 days to appeal the case.

The Kosovo Specialist Chamber was created in 2015 to handle cases under Kosovo law against former KLA fighters. It is separate from the United Nations tribunal for the former Yugoslavia – also located in the Netherlands. The latter tried Serbian officials for war crimes committed in the Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo conflicts.

The court has also detained Kosovo’s former president and KLA commander, Hashim Thaci, who is awaiting trial with other suspects on various charges, including murder, torture and persecution, according to the Associated Press.

More than 13,000 people are reported to have perished during the Kosovo war, which was still a part of Serbia under then-President Slobodan Milosevic. NATO air strikes on Serbian forces brought the war to a close.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but Serbia does not recognize it.

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