Prosecutors want restrictions on ex-Kosovo president over witness concerns

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Prosecutors in the war crimes trial of former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci are seeking to restrict communications and keep him apart from other detainees over concerns he and two co-accused are trying to influence witnesses, court filings published on Thursday showed.

Prosecutors asked judges to order “the immediate segregation and suspension of all communications” of Thaci and two other former top leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army on trial with him.

Lawyers for Thaci said it was too early to respond publicly to the allegations.

Thaci and three co-defendants have been on trial since April on 10 charges of persecution, murder, torture and forced disappearance of people during and shortly after the 1998-99 guerrilla uprising that eventually brought Kosovo independence from Serbia. They deny the charges.

According to prosecutors, Thaci and two co-accused have revealed the identities of protected witnesses to their visitors in detention and in some cases seemingly instructed them to tell potential witnesses what to say when questioned.

The document shows that prosecutors, with the permission of judges, taped the suspects’ conversations with visitors.

Prosecutors say multiple protected witnesses in the Thaci cases have reported being approached by people trying to prevent or influence their testimony.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers, seated in the Netherlands and staffed by international judges and lawyers, was set up in 2015 to handle cases under Kosovo law against ex-Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas.

The Chambers was specifically set outside of Kosovo because of worries over witness intimidation as the former KLA leaders are seen as heroes in the Balkan country.

More than 13,000 people, the majority of them Kosovo Albanians, are believed to have died during the insurgency, when Kosovo was still a province of Serbia under then-strongman President Slobodan Milosevic.

Its is not clear when judges will rule on the request.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg, Editing by Charlotte Van Campenhout and Sharon Singleton)