KOSOVO

Acquitted of war crimes, Haradinaj returns home

3 min

Crowds of exuberant supporters greeted ex-Kosovo premier Ramush Haradinaj as he returned to Pristina after being acquitted by a UN war crimes court on ethnic cleansing charges during the 1998-1999 war. FRANCE 24's Laurent Rouy reports.

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SLATINA, Kosovo, April 4 (Reuters) - Thousands of
flag-waving Kosovo Albanians turned out on Friday to welcome
home ex-prime minister Ramush Haradinaj after his acquittal at
the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

 

The former guerrilla commander, who fought Serb forces in
1998-99, returned to Kosovo six weeks after the territory
declared independence from Serbia and won recognition from major
Western powers.

"I am here, where I belong, with the people of Kosovo. And I
feel great," the 39-year-old told several thousand people at
Slatina airport as they chanted his name and threw flowers.

 

"The Kosovo Liberation Army fought a just war," he said.

 

Haradinaj, the most senior Kosovo Albanian to be tried by
the U.N. tribunal, was cleared on Thursday of persecuting Serbs
during the two-year guerrilla war for independence.

 

The ruling compounded Serb anger over Kosovo's secession and
revived accusations by Belgrade that the court is anti-Serb.

 

Analysts said the verdict played into the hands of
nationalists ahead of Serbia's close parliamentary election on
May 11, and might make it harder for any Serb government to
justify handing over four remaining Serb war crimes fugitives.

 

Nationalist Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said
the ruling made a "mockery of justice".

 

"Every citizen of Serbia knows that with this decision the
Hague tribunal has rewarded crime and humiliated innocent
Serbian victims," he said on Friday.

 

He called on the European Union to review whether Serbia's
further integration with the bloc should depend on its
cooperation with the tribunal, as has been the case until now.

 

Haradinaj, a former nightclub bouncer, was prime minister
for a few months until he resigned in 2005 after being indicted.
He is expected to return to politics as head of the small party
Alliance for the Future of Kosovo.

 

Considered a hero by many Kosovo Albanians, Haradinaj was
acquitted of torture, murder, rape and deportation after the
Kosovo Liberation Army launched a guerrilla war to end a decade
of Serb repression under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

 

Serb forces expelled almost one million Albanians.

 

Judges said the prosecution had failed to prove a deliberate
campaign to kill and expel Serb civilians from Kosovo. They also
noted prosecution complaints of witness intimidation throughout
the trial.

 

Haradinaj's uncle, Lahi Brahimaj, a senior KLA figure, was
cleared of most charges but sentenced to six years jail for
personally taking part in the cruel treatment of a detainee at a
camp, and ordering the mistreatment of a perceived collaborator.

 

A third accused, Idriz Balaj, the commander of the KLA's
"Black Eagles" special unit, was cleared of all charges of
torture, murder, rape and deportation.

 

 

 

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