Kosovo president charged with war crimes over 1990s killings


The Hague (AFP)

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci has been charged with 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the country's conflict in the 1990s, a tribunal in The Hague said on Wednesday.

Wartime intelligence chief and former parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli is also accused of war crimes, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) said, adding that the charges against both men were brought on April 24 but not revealed publicly.

"The indictment alleges that Hashim Thaci, Kadri Veseli and the other charged suspects are criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders," the KSC said in a statement.

The accused are also facing other charges such as enforced disappearance of persons, persecution and torture, the tribunal said.

The crimes alleged in the indictment "involved hundreds of known victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities and include political opponents", it added.

Prosecutors said they decided to make the accusations public because Thaci and Veseli had made "repeated attempts" to obstruct the KSC.

Thaci is currently preparing for a summit at the White House on Saturday with Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic, and local media reports suggested he had already left for the US. His officials could not be reached to confirm the report.

The White House meeting was organised by the US special envoy to Serbia and Kosovo Richard Grenell, who has ruffled European feathers by launching a diplomatic process between the two sides parallel to decade-long talks mediated by the EU.

Grenell has denied trying to overshadow the EU-led process, saying his meeting will focus on boosting economic ties.Trump was not expected to attend the meeting.

- Wartime atrocities -

The EU-backed tribunal was established in 2015 to investigate crimes by independence-seeking ethnic Albanian guerrillas against mainly Serb civilians during the 1998-1999 war.

The conflict pitted Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas seeking independence for the southern Serbian province of Kosovo against Serbia's forces, who withdrew from the territory after an 11-week NATO bombing campaign.

The tribunal was created after a Council of Europe report tied former guerrilla leaders including Thaci to atrocities.

The court announced in April that it had filed charges against high-ranking Kosovo officials without naming them, but speculation was already rife that the indictment included Thaci.

Asked in April whether he would resign if he was charged, Thaci told local media he was not even thinking about it and would "respond positively" if he was asked to appear at the tribunal.

Kosovo's outgoing prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, resigned last July after being summoned by the prosecutor for interrogation as a suspect.

Veseli said in November he had been summoned by the court to be questioned.

The KSC opened its doors in The Hague as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was winding down after almost 25 years of prosecuting crimes committed in the Balkans after Yugoslavia's break-up in the early 1990s.

Haradinaj was acquitted of war crimes by the ICTY in 2012.

Kosovo's independence war claimed around 13,000 lives, the majority of whom were ethnic Albanians.

The territory unilaterally declared its independence in 2008 with backing from the United States and most of the West.

But Serbia and its allies China and Russia have never accepted the move, and the status of Kosovo remains a major source of tension in the Balkans.