Why more are surrendering to Balkans war tribunal

Thursday, former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj faced 37 counts of war crimes at The Hague.

When Kosovar leader Ramush Haradinaj surrendered to the Hague war crimes tribunal Wednesday after resigning as prime minister, international administrators feared riots here. Mr. Haradinaj is seen as a war hero, and impatience has been mounting over the province's unresolved final status.

The 18,000-strong NATO force called in reinforcements and erected frequent checkpoints - half a dozen alone on the hour-long drive between Pec and the northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica.

But so far things have remained quiet, except for the din of generators as Pec endured yet another power outage.

The cooperation with the tribunal and the calm on the streets are a testament to the residual goodwill in Kosovo toward NATO for the 1999 bombing of Serbia that drove Serb security forces from the province. Kosovars are also hoping that good behavior will improve their chances of gaining full independence at final-status talks expected later this year.

European leverage in the Balkans is resulting in more cooperation with the tribunal, precipitating a handful of surrenders recently by wanted Bosnians, Serbians, and Kosovars.

Mr. Haradinaj, the highest-ranking former guerrilla to face the court, was charged Thursday with 37 counts of war crimes for alleged atrocities against Serbs.

"These are allegations only," Haradinaj said in a telephone interview three weeks before his surrender. "There is no case, but I am prepared to fully cooperate with [the tribunal]."

While Haradinaj willingly boarded a plane to The Hague - as did former Bosnian Muslim army commander Rasim Delic last week for his alleged knowledge of crimes committed during his country's 1992-1995 war - the tribunal has been unable to obtain the arrests or surrenders of the Balkans' two most wanted men.

Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic and his political counterpart, Radovan Karadzic, were indicted in 1995 over their alleged roles in the Bosnian war's worst massacre - the slaughter of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica. The two have so far evaded capture and show no signs of surrendering.

Serbs and their leaders have seen the tribunal as biased and anti-Serb since it was inaugurated in 1993 to try the crimes of the brutal wars that tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s. Until recently the tribunal reported little cooperation from Belgrade, and zero cooperation from the Serbs in next-door Bosnia.

But increasing economic and political pressure from the West has prompted Belgrade to encourage suspects to surrender. A handful of suspects have flown to The Hague in recent weeks. Former Serb general Momcilo Perisic, accused of crimes at Srebrenica and elsewhere, surrendered Monday.

Croatia faces the cancellation of talks on joining the European Union this month if it doesn't turn over one of its generals.

In Kosovo, tensions have been on the rise. Last year, Mitrovica was the scene of several days of rioting that left about 20 dead and hundreds of mostly ethnic Serb houses burned to the ground.

The beefed up security measures this week by NATO and the UN, which has administered Kosovo since 1999, are only a provocation, says one former guerrilla, because Haradinaj has urged Albanians not to start trouble.

"If it weren't for the words of Haradinaj that every fighter carries in his pocket...," says Nexhmedin Laiqi, trailing off as he unfolds a copy of Haradinaj's speech this week calling for calm.

But Mr. Laiqi and Albanians in Pec's subdued cafes say that violence - directed at minority Serbs or the large international presence here - would only risk their chances at full independence.

"If it hadn't been for NATO, we wouldn't be drinking coffee with you today," says Burim Kastrati, who survived a Serb massacre in May 1999 that left 21 people in his village of Zahaq dead. "We've fought enough now."

Mr. Kastrati and his friends say that finding steady work, and hoping for an independent Kosovo - one that would be able to keep the electricity on all day - are bigger priorities.

They are also confident that Mr. Haradinaj will be able to clear his name.

"A person who's defending himself cannot be a criminal," says Bekim Muriqi. "We can't compare the level of atrocities by an army that killed 10,000 people to a soldier on the ground with only one weapon."

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