PRISTINA: Kosovo President Hashim Thaci resigned with immediate effect on Thursday after learning that a war crimes tribunal in The Hague had confirmed his indictment for war crimes.

Thaci told a news conference in the Kosovo capital Pristina that he felt his resignation was necessary “to protect the integrity of the state” because the judge at the Kosovo Specialist Chamber would not allow him to appear as president.

Kosovo-based newspaper Koha Ditore reported on its website that Thaci arrived at Pristina’s military airport in the afternoon to be flown to The Hague after earlier arriving at the EU’s Kosovo rule of law mission, EULEX.

The European Union issued a statement saying that it “takes note of the resignation of the President of Kosovo and welcomes the fact that he has agreed to cooperate with the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office.” Prosecutors hold Thaci responsible for nearly 100 murders of civilians during the 1998-99 war when he was a commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrilla group which fought the Serbian police and army. He denies any wrongdoing.

The tribunal was set up in 2015 to handle cases relating to the war that led to Kosovo’s independence from Serbia a decade later in 2008. The court is governed by Kosovo law, but staffed by international judges and prosecutors.

Anger in Kosovo

Many in Kosovo oppose the war crimes court and see the KLA commanders as heroes.

“I think a big injustice is being committed here by putting on trial our liberators,” economist Fejzullah Ibrahimi told Reuters at a market in Pristina.

Salesman Besim Plakaj also called the indictment an injustice against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians and said the heads of the KLA protected their own country. “Together with Nato they were liberators of our people,” he said.

Nato bombed Belgrade in 1999 to halt the killings and expulsions of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo by Serb forces.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International said the indictment against Thaci gave hope to thousands of victims of the war “who have waited for more than two decades to find out the truth about the horrific crimes.”

In Belgrade, lawmaker Milovan Drecun who is chairman of the Serbian parliamentary committee for Kosovo said the indictment proved that “establishing the truth about war crimes of the KLA and punishing those responsible is an irreversible process.”

In July, Thaci met the prosecutors in The Hague to discuss the allegations against him. Another two Kosovo politicians and former KLA members — Rexhep Selimi, a deputy in the Kosovo parliament, and Kadri Veseli, the president of Thaci’s Kosovo Democratic Party, also had indictments confirmed.

On Wednesday, the former KLA spokesman and veteran Kosovo politician Jakup Krasniqi was arrested and transferred to The Hague on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the court said.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2020