World

Kosovar president, party leader among 10 indicted by Hague court for war crimes

Kosovo President Hasim Thaci and nine other former separatist fighters have been indicted on a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes charges, including murder, by a court investigating crimes against ethnic Serbs during and after Kosovo's 1998-99 independence war with Serbia.

Hasim Thaci, 9 others 'responsible for nearly 100 murders' in 1990s, court alleges

President Hashim Thaci, seen in a 2019 press conference in the capital Pristina, commanded fighters in the Kosovo Liberation Army during the 1998-99 independence war with Serbia. (Visar Kryeziu/The Associated Press)

Kosovo's president and nine other former separatist fighters were indicted on a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes charges, including murder, by a court investigating crimes against ethnic Serbs during and after Kosovo's 1998-99 independence war with Serbia.

A statement from a prosecutor of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers issued Wednesday said President Hashim Thaci and the others suspects "are criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders," involving hundreds of known Kosovar Albanian, Serb and Roma victims, as well as political opponents.

Other charges include enforced disappearance, persecution, and torture. Thaci commanded fighters in the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, during the war.

The president's advisers did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

The indicted group also includes Kadri Veseli, former parliament speaker and current leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo.

Indictment still to be reviewed

The indictment issued Wednesday was the first by the special tribunal based in the Hague. The court has been operating since 2015 and has questioned hundreds of witnesses. Kosovo's prime minister resigned last year before he was questioned.

The indictment is being reviewed by a pretrial judge who will decide whether to confirm the charges, according to the statement.

The prosecutor filed the indictment following a lengthy investigation and it reflects his "determination that it can prove all of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt," the statement said.

Kadri Veseli, leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, was also among those indicted by the tribunal in The Hague. (Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images)

The prosecutor also accused Thaci and Veseli of repeated efforts "to obstruct and undermine the work" of the tribunal.

"Thaci and Veseli are believed to have carried out a secret campaign to overturn the law creating the Court and otherwise obstruct the work of the Court in an attempt to ensure that they do not face justice," the statement said.

Won't attend White House meeting

"By taking these actions, Mr. Thaci and Mr. Veseli have put their personal interests ahead of the victims of their crimes, the rule of law, and all people of Kosovo," it added.

The 1998-1999 war left more than 10,000 dead and 1,641 are still unaccounted for. It ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign.

Kosovo is a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008, a move Serbia does not recognize. Tensions between the two countries remain high. European Union-facilitated negotiations to normalize their relations started in March 2011 and have produced some 30 agreements, most of which were not observed.

After the ruling, Thaci pulled out of a meeting at the White House with Serbian officials that was set for Saturday.

U.S. presidential envoy Richard Grenell, who invited Kosovar and Serbian officials to meet to jump-start their stalled peace talks, tweeted that Thaci decided to postpone his trip to Washington.

Grenell wrote: "I respect his decision not to attend the discussions until the legal issues of those allegations are settled."

The discussions will proceed and be led by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti, Grenell said.

The White House meeting was set to be the first talks between the two sides in 19 months.

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