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19th Jan 2019

Kosovo drops objection to EU court

  • The Kosovo court will meet in The Hague for fear of witness intimidation in Kosovo (Photo: Bamshad Houshyani)

EU powers and the US have welcomed Kosovo's decision to cease efforts to overturn a war crimes tribunal.

"Only by upholding the rule of law and ensuring justice for all victims can Kosovo affirm its maturity as a state and its readiness to fully integrate into Europe and the international community," the Kosovo embassies of France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the US said in a statement on Thursday (8 February).

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  • Thaci went to the Winter Olympics on Friday (Photo: nato.int)

"We expect Kosovo's leaders to keep their word and all Kosovo institutions to honour this commitment," they said.

"Standing by the specialist chambers will enable continued support from Kosovo's closest friends and allies as we celebrate the many achievements made in the decade since independence," they added.

The warm words came after Kosovo's prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, president Hashim Thaci, and parliament speaker Kadri Veseli, one by one, walked away from calls to abrogate a law establishing the Kosovo Relocated Specialist Judicial Institution (KRSJI) in The Hague.

The EU-funded KRSJI was set up to look into allegations by Dick Marty, a Swiss politician, that Kosovo guerrilla chiefs committed crimes, including organ trafficking, during Kosovo's 1998-1999 conflict with Serbia.

Marty's report named Thaci and Veseli, who could face indictments.

The KRSJI was also unpopular because it will handle only the Marty allegations, leaving aside open allegations of Serb crimes, and so possibly making Kosovo appear more guilty in the conflict.

The court dispute came amid EU efforts to normalise ties between Kosovo and Serbia.

The European Commission said in a Western Balkans strategy paper this week Serbia could join the EU by 2025 if it first concluded a binding deal with Kosovo.

Some take that to mean Serbia must recognise Kosovo's independence, but EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said at an event in Belgrade on Thursday that this was not necessarily the case.

"The [Kosovo-Serbia] dialogue should lead to a legally-binding agreement. There are many possibilities for a solution and it's too early to speak about a concrete solution … it is still an empty paper," he said.

The Western Balkans strategy watered down pro-enlargement language on Kosovo after a complaint by Spain, which, along with four other EU states, does not recognise its sovereignty.

That gave fodder to Russia, which opposes EU and Nato expansion in the region, at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Kosovo in New York on Thursday.

Russia at the UN

"Kosovo does not have a clear perspective [for independence] today," Russia's UN ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, said.

He said Kosovo should not expect the number of states that have recognised it to grow. He also accused the EU of letting Kosovo renege on a deal with Serbia on self-rule by majority-Serb municipalities in Kosovo.

Russia was echoed by China, which said it respected Serbia's sovereignty.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador, praised the KRSJI development, adding that the "coming months are crucial" for Kosovo and Serbia to make progress on normalising ties.

The US and French ambassadors also urged Kosovo to uphold rule of law more broadly speaking.

They said it must bring to justice the killers of Oliver Ivanovic, a Kosovan Serb politician who was assassinated in January.

Thaci, the Kosovan president, visited Washington on Thursday to thank the US for its military support in the 1998-1999 war on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Kosovo's declaration of independence.

He went to Pyeongchang in South Korea on Friday to support Albin Tahiri, a Kosovan skier, as part of efforts to solidify Kosovo's status in international organisations, such as the International Olympic Committee, which recognised Kosovo in 2014.

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