Kosovo president to resign if war crimes charges confirmed

·3 min read
'Kosovo was a victim', Hashim Thaci says (AFP Photo/Armend NIMANI)

Pristina (AFP) - Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said Monday he would "immediately resign" if a special court in The Hague confirms war crimes charges levied against him over his role in Kosovo's 1990s war, allegations he flatly denied.

The charges, which include murder, enforced disappearances, persecution and torture, were filed last week by special prosecutors investigating crimes from Kosovo's uprising against Serbia two decades ago.

Thaci, today Kosovo's most powerful politician, was at the time the political leader of the ethnic Albanian rebel group that waged the separatist conflict, paving the path to Kosovo's independence.

The indictment still needs approval from a pre-trial judge, which could take months.

"If the accusation is confirmed, I will immediately resign as your President and face the accusations," the 52-year-old president said in his first national address following the allegations last Wednesday.

"I will not face justice from this office," he added.

Prosecutors said they rushed the announcement because Thaci and other suspects had been trying to obstruct the work of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, the hybrid Hague-based court that operates under Kosovo law but has international judges.

Thaci lambasted this pre-emptive move as a "massive scandal" and insisted on his innocence.

"Political mistakes in peace I could have made, but war crimes, never," he said, adding with a resigned tone that his "heart is hurt, but not broken".

The ten-count indictment accuses Thaci, his closest political ally Kadri Veseli and others of being "criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders" in addition to other crimes against Serb, Roma and Kosovo Albanian victims.

- US summit scrapped -

President since 2016 and prime minister before that, Thaci has dominated Kosovo ever since he helped sever it from Belgrade.

In recent years he has taken part in talks aimed at normalising ties with Serbia, who still rejects the independence its former province declared in 2008.

The president was on his way to the US to meet with his Serbian counterpart at the White House when the charges were announced, scuppering a summit that would have brought the pair together for the first time in months.

The US initiative has been championed by Thaci, who has recently expressed dissatisfaction with long-running but slow-moving EU-led talks to bring the Balkan neighbours to an accord.

Belgrade effectively lost control over Kosovo after a NATO bombing forced Serb troops to withdraw from the southern province in 1999, ending the war.

Several Serbian military and police officials were later convicted by international justice of war crimes during the conflict that left 13,000 people dead, mainly ethnic Albanians.

But rebels from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) have also been accused of coordinating a campaign of revenge attacks on Serbs, Roma and ethnic Albanian rivals during and after the war.

Like Thaci, many rebel commanders dropped their fatigues for politicians' suits during Kosovo's first decade of independence.

Critics accuse them of miring the young democracy in corruption while doing little to lift ordinary Kosovars from poverty.

But few Kosovo Albanians will criticise the legacy of the KLA, with voices from across the political spectrum coming to the defence of the "just" independence struggle in recent days.