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25th Jul 2021

EU-backed court wrecks US plan for Kosovo summit

  • Kosovo president Hashim Thaçi (l) with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Washington earlier this month (Photo: state.gov)

An EU-backed war crimes tribunal has publicly stigmatised Kosovo president Hashim Thaçi, wrecking US plans for a Western Balkans summit.

Thaçi and others were "criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders" of "victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities and ... political opponents," according to a statement by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) in The Hague on Wednesday (24 June).

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Their crimes, against "hundreds" of other victims, also included "enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture", it said.

"The indictment is only an accusation" at this stage, it noted.

But it was also "the result of a lengthy investigation and reflects the SPO's determination that it can prove all of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt", the KSC said, referring to a sister entity, the Specialist Prosecutor's Office.

The EU and US-funded tribunal was created in 2016 to look into alleged crimes by Kosovar Albanian guerrillas in the 1991 to 1999 war, in which Kosovo broke away from Serbia.

It was situated in The Hague because of fears of witness intimidation in Kosovo.

Thaçi's case was the first time it shamed suspects publicly.

His indictment had also been fast-tracked because he was "believed to have carried out a secret campaign to overturn the law [in Kosovo] creating the court," the KSC added.

By taking these actions, Thaçi put his "personal interests ahead of the victims of [his] crimes, the rule of law, and all people of Kosovo", it said.

The KSC also indicted Kadri Veseli, a former Kosovo parliament speaker.

It did not name the other suspects.

The news broke three days before Thaçi was to meet Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić in the White House on Saturday to discuss a peace deal.

And it prompted Thaçi to cancel the talks a few hours later.

"I respect his decision", Richard Grenell, a US special envoy who had organised the summit, tweeted.

The news also came amid rival EU efforts to restart Kosovo-Serbia peace talks, which had stalled in 2018, involving Vučić and either Thaçi or Kosovo prime minister Avdullah Hoti.

The EU foreign service underlined the KSC's independence by declining to comment on Thaçi's charges.

But it lent credibility to the KSC's story that Thaçi had campaigned to undermine the tribunal.

The KSC and SPO ought to be left alone to "do their work ... without outside interference," the EU foreign service said.

Respect for rule of law was a "core element for Kosovo's progress on the EU integration path and for the EU engagement with the Western Balkans as a whole", it added.

Shock news

Wednesday's shock news was reminiscent of 14 December 2010 - the day Thaçi was first accused of being part of an organ-trafficking mafia in a report by a Swiss senator.

The Swiss report gave rise to the KSC.

But Thaçi's personal future aside, the EU-backed tribunal is widely disliked by Kosovar Albanians.

It began work at the same time as another court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), also in The Hague, wrapped up its mandate in 2017.

The ICTY had tried big Serbian names, such as the country's late dictator, Slobodan Milošević, as well as former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters.

But many alleged Serbian crimes remained unsolved today, Kosovar Albanian politicians and families have said.

And the fact that only the KSC was left risked making the victims of Serbian violence look like the aggressors in the eyes of Europe, they said.

"It's a mono-ethnic court and it's not good for the other victims," Kosovo's former prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, told EUobserver in December.

The ex-KLA fighter was also, but more quietly, summoned as a KSC suspect last July, prompting him to resign.

"For a prime minister to be a suspect ... is very difficult for the credibility of our state," Haradinaj said at the time, posing questions on Thaçi's next step.

The KSC's mandate ought to be changed to cover the still-unsolved alleged Serbian crimes too, Haradinaj added.

"I can mention the massacres of Meja, Krusha e Madhe, of Kralan, of Lubenic, of Poklek, Izbicé, of Raçak, Qyshk, and Podujevë," he said.

Zooming in on Kralan, Zana Bytyqi, whose father was killed there when she was nine years old, also told EUobserver, back in 2017, that "in its current form the [EU's] special court is selective and unjust".

The youngest victim at Kralan was Kushtrim Rraci, a 14-year old boy, whose remains were never found.

"How can the souls of our loved ones rest in peace?", Bytyqi, from the Kosovo-based NGO Family and Hope, said.

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