Kosovo president and others charged for war crimes against Serbs

On Wednesday, Kosovo’s president and nine other former separatist fighters were indicted on a range of war crimes and crimes against humanity charges for Kosovo’s 1998-99 independence war with Serbia. 

Visar Kryeziu/AP
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci seen at a press conference in Pristina, Kosovo, Jan. 21, 2019. On June 24, 2020, Mr. Thaci was indicted for war crimes against Serbs. Kosovo's politicians resented the decision, saying that Serbs' atrocities and massacres went unpunished.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and nine other former separatist fighters were indicted on Wednesday on a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes charges, including murder, by an international court investigating their actions against ethnic Serbs and others during and after Kosovo's 1998-99 independence war with Serbia.

The indictment was the first by the special tribunal for Kosovo based in The Hague. The court has been operating since 2015 and has questioned hundreds of witnesses. Kosovo's prime minister resigned last year before he was questioned. 

Because of the indictment, Mr. Thaci has postponed his trip to the White House in Washington, where he was to meet on Saturday for talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

"The President of Kosovo has just informed us that he has canceled his trip to Washington, D.C. following the announcement made by the Special Prosecutors Office. I respect his decision not to attend the discussions until the legal issues of those allegations are settled," tweeted Richard Grenell, the United States envoy for the Kosovo talks.

The talks will still go ahead, with Mr. Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti, he added.

A statement from a prosecutor of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers said Mr. Thaci and the nine others "are criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders" involving hundreds of Serb and Roma victims, as well as Kosovo Albanian political opponents.

Other charges include enforced disappearance, persecution, and torture, he said.

The Wall Street Journal reported

Mr. Thaci has openly criticized the court’s work in recent months and pushed for U.S. help to press for the dismantling of the institution. However Kosovo officials, including top aides to Mr. Thaci, have denied in the past that talks with Serbia could include efforts to agree a joint amnesty for crimes committed during the Kosovo conflict.

A European Union spokesman said that the court is “an important demonstration of Kosovo’s commitment to the rule of law, which in turn is a core element for Kosovo’s progress” as a potential candidate for eventual EU membership.

Mr. Thaci was a commander of the so-called Kosovo Liberation army, or KLA, that fought for independence from Serbia. The war left more than 10,000 dead – most of them ethnic Albanians – and 1,641 are still unaccounted for. It ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign against Serbian troops.

The former ethnic Albanian-dominated province declared independence from Serbia in 2008, which Serbia did not recognize.

The indicted group includes Kadri Veseli, former parliament speaker and leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo.

"The court is trying to stain our liberating war, our aspiration for freedom and independence and legalize the [Serb] crimes in Kosovo,"said Bardhyl Mahmuti, a former KLA political representative, to the public television station, RTK.

The indictment is being reviewed by a pretrial judge who will decide whether to confirm the charges, according to the statement.

The prosecutor filed the indictment following a lengthy investigation and it reflects his "determination that it can prove all of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt," the statement said.

The prosecutor also accused Mr. Thaci and Mr. Veseli of repeated efforts "to obstruct and undermine the work" of the tribunal.

"Thaci and Veseli are believed to have carried out a secret campaign to overturn the law creating the Court and otherwise obstruct the work of the Court in an attempt to ensure that they do not face justice," the statement said.

"By taking these actions, Mr. Thaci and Mr. Veseli have put their personal interests ahead of the victims of their crimes, the rule of law, and all people of Kosovo," it added.

Kosovo politicians resisted and resented the scrutiny of the war crimes court, repeatedly noting that Serb troops committed massacres and other atrocities during the war that went unpunished.

Tensions between the two countries remain high. European Union-facilitated negotiations to normalize their relations started in March 2011 and has produced some 30 agreements, most of which were not observed.

The Washington meeting was set to be the first talks between the two sides in 19 months.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania. Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade contributed. Material from The Wall Street Journal was used in this report. 

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