PRISTINA — Kosovar President Hashim Thaci, a guerrilla leader during the country’s war for independence from Serbia in the 1990s, has resigned after confirming that he has been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Thaci told a news conference on November 5 in Pristina that his sources had informed him that the Kosovo Specialist Chamber (KSC) had confirmed his indictment on the charges and said he was following through on a pledge to step away from his position should he be indicted.
“As I have pledged, under no circumstances will I allow for the president of the Republic of Kosovo to appear before the court. Therefore, in order to protect the integrity of the presidency of the Republic of Kosovo, the integrity of the state of Kosovo, the integrity and dignity of the citizens of Kosovo, the people of Kosovo, and to respect the partnership with the international community, I resign today,” Thaci said.
After officially taking over the function of acting president, parliament speaker Vjosa Osmani called for unity in a video message, saying Kosovo needed “strong leadership and a unified state reaction.”
“We have not given up our commitment to consolidate the state and cultivate democratic values. Despite the challenges, we have remained strong in our faith, which I call on you to prove even in these difficult moments,” she said.
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (KSC & SPO) is a court of Kosovo, located in The Hague.
The KSC is mandated to look into allegations that members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1998-99 war to gain independence from Serbia.
It operates under Kosovar law but is based in the Netherlands to shield witnesses from intimidation.
The SPO in June accused Thaci and other suspects of being “criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders,” as well as the “enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture.”
The alleged crimes involved “hundreds of known victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities and include political opponents,” according to the SPO.
Kosovo’s war of independence from Serbia left more than 10,000 people dead — most of them ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. More than 1,600 people remain unaccounted for. The fighting ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign against Serbia.
Thaci was a commander of the UCK during the war in Kosovo. He has denied involvement in any war crimes.
The European Union said it “welcomes the fact that he has agreed to cooperate” with the KSC & SPO.
“Full cooperation with these institutions is essential as an important demonstration of Kosovo’s commitment to the rule of law, which in turn is a core element for Kosovo’s progress on its European path and for EU’s engagement with the Western Balkans as a whole,” spokesman Peter Stano said in a statement.
Following Thaci’s resignation, “we trust the representatives of Kosovo to ensure the continuity of the institutions as spelled out in Kosovo law,” he added.
London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International said the indictment against Thaci “brings hope for thousands of victims of the Kosovo war who have waited for more than two decades to find out the truth about the horrific crimes committed against them and their loved ones.”
However, U.S. Representative Eliot Engel (Democrat-New York), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, expressed “serious concerns” about how the KSC & SPO was carrying out its mandate, saying that “it appears to be operating as an ethnic court — one that only pursues Albanians alleged to have committed crimes.”
“Anyone who commits serious war crimes must be prosecuted, regardless of ethnicity. But, the “vast majority of crimes” committed in Kosovo during the war were carried out by Serbian forces during “its genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing,” Engel said in a statement.
Earlier on November 5, a former speaker of parliament and leader of Democratic Party of Kosovo, Kadri Veseli, also confirmed his indictment by the SPO.
On November 4, another ex-speaker of parliament, former guerrilla commander Jakup Krasniqi, was taken into custody and transferred to The Hague to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Krasniqi was arrested the same day in a special operation by The Hague-based war crimes prosecutors in cooperation with local police in Pristina.
Former UCK member Rexhep Selimi, and Salih Mustafa, one of the founders of the UCK, have also been indicted by the SPO.
Krasniqi and Mustafa have already been transferred to The Hague, while Selimi and Veseli are currently on their way to The Netherlands. It is still unknown when Thaci will leave for The Hague.
Two more suspects, Nesim Haradinaj and Hysen Gucati, are also in detention in The Hague, but their indictment has yet to be confirmed.
Kosovo, which has a largely ethnic Albanian population, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by many Western states but not by Serbia or its allies Russia and China.