PRISTINA – Kosovo’s president on Monday denied committing war crimes during and after a 1998-1999 armed conflict between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serbia, and said he would resign if an indictment against him is confirmed.
Hashim Thaci said in a televised address to the nation that there was no evidence he broke the law. Last week, a prosecutor at a Kosovo court based at The Hague said he had filed charges against Thaci, former Speaker Kadri Veseli and a group of other former independence fighters. They were accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The charges say they are "criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders” of Serbs and Roma, as well as Kosovo Albanian political opponents, including enforced disappearances, persecution and torture. The list of charges was made public last week, but a pretrial judge at The Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers hasn't made a decision on whether to proceed with the case or throw it out.
Thaci was confident that the case wouldn't go ahead.
“If the accusation is confirmed, I will immediately resign as your president and face the accusations,” he said.
Thaci was a commander of the Kosovo Liberation army, or KLA, that fought for independence from Serbia. The fighting left more than 10,000 dead — most of them ethnic Albanians — and 1,641 are still unaccounted for. It ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign in 1999 that forced Serbian troops to stop their brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanians and leave Kosovo.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move Serbia refuses to recognize.
Thaci’s indictment led to the postponement of a White House meeting between the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia which was organized by U.S presidential envoy Richard Grenell. They would have been the first official talks between Serbia and Kosovo in 19 months. Thaci was traveling to Washington for the discussions when the indictment was announced.
“I do not know whether it was chance or intrigue that, midway toward the White House, the notification for an unconfirmed indictment was released,” he said.
Both Kosovo’s president and the prime minister canceled their trips to Washington, and Grenell said he would reschedule the meeting.
Thaci said the meeting being called off was "a strong blow to the opportunity of achieving peace between Kosovo and Serbia.”
Thaci also accused the Hague tribunal of “a massive scandal” after it announced the handed-over of the indictment before it was approved by the judicial body.
“No crime, alleged or even committed, by anyone, justifies a public (political) lynching,” he said.
The United States and the European Union have been working to help normalize ties between the two countries which still remain tense.
Earlier Monday, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama visited Kosovo to meet with Thaci and other top officials and politicians. Rama called the indictment a “shameful stain” of world justice.
Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.