Kosovo president Hashim Thaçi vows to resign if war crimes trial goes ahead | World news | The Guardian 1st July 2020


Kosovo president Hashim

Thaçi vows to resign if war

crimes trial goes ahead

Thaçi says he will leave office if The

Hague confirms charges made against

him last week

Julian Borger Last modified on Wed 1 Jul 2020

05.46 BST

Thaçi has strongly denied the charges levied against him. He said: ‘Political mistakes in

peace I could have made, but war crimes, never.ʼ Photograph: Valdrin Xhemaj/EPA

Kosovoʼs president, Hashim Thaçi, has promised to

resign immediately if a war crimes indictment filed

against him at a special court in The Hague is confirmed.

The indictment, yet to be ruled on by the pre-trial judge,

was made public in dramatic fashion last week, as Thaçi

was on his way to Washington for negotiations at the

White House.

The indictment was for a range of crimes against

humanity and war crimes, including murder, enforced

disappearance, persecution and torture. It named Thaçi

and one other Kosovo politician, former parliament

speaker Kadri Veseli.

The news scuppered the planned talks between Thaçi

and Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić, which had been

convened by Richard Grenell, Donald Trumpʼs Balkan

peace envoy. The two states have been in dispute since

the former Serbian province broke away after a Nato

bombing campaign in 1999, and a deal to normalise

relations would have brought a quick diplomatic win for

Trump shortly before the US presidential election.

Instead, Thaçi turned back and headed home. After

several days of silence, he surfaced on Monday evening,

with a televised address in which he protested his

innocence and used emotional language to describe his

personal feelings and his devotion to Kosovoʼs liberation

struggle. “Political mistakes in peace I could have made,

but war crimes, never,” he said.

However, he said he would not fight confirmed charges

while in office. “If the accusation is confirmed, I will

immediately resign as your president and face the

accusations,” he said.

Thaçi, Kosovoʼs most powerful politician, has been

president since 2016 and was prime minister before that.

During the armed struggle against Serbian forces in

1998-99 he led the political wing of the Kosovo

Liberation Army (KLA).

The specialist prosecutorʼs office at the Kosovo

chambers in The Hague said last week that it was taking

the unusual step of making the charges public before the

indictment had been confirmed because of Thaçiʼs

repeated efforts to “obstruct and undermine” the courtʼs

work. The prosecutorsʼ aim appeared to be to stop Thaçi

from signing a deal at the White House that would then

make him politically untouchable.

“Thaçi has this idea that because thatʼs the way he does

things and his crowd do things, thatʼs the way other

governments work, too,” said a former US diplomat who

worked in the region. “Trump has that same idea thatʼs

the way government should work. But I just donʼt see

anybody [at the court] accepting that.”

The diplomat said the prosecutors may have gone public

out of irritation at being pressured politically by elements

within the Trump administration. Others suggested

European officials may have been eager to make the

information public and scupper a rushed US deal with the

unpredictable Trump as guarantor.

“We donʼt really know who is influencing the court, if

anyone, but itʼs a legitimate question to ask because it is

vulnerable to political influence,” said Andrea Capussela,

who was head of the economic department of the

International Civilian Office in Kosovo from 2008-11 and

wrote a book on the countryʼs development. The court

was established in response to a 2011 report accusing

the KLA leadership, including Thaçi, of involvement in

serious crimes.

Attorneys working on defence cases at the court said the

prosecutorʼs public statement was inexcusable. “The

rules are crystal clear that the indictments that are filed

are to be kept confidential and are not to be made public

before it is confirmed by the pre-trial judge,” said

Jonathan Rees QC, a British barrister who is on the list of

approved defence counsel for the chambers.

Rees said the court should sanction the prosecutor for

breaching the rules. “The specialist chambers will have

powers to prevent proceedings continuing if their

fundamental fairness has been jeopardised,” he said.

The majority of victims of the 1998-99 conflict were

ethnic Albanians, and several Serbian military and police

officials have been convicted by international courts of

war crimes. While the KLA was also accused of atrocities,

and while Thaçi has many critics for his performance in

government over the past decade, many inside Kosovo

view the war as a just struggle for liberation, and see the

court as a stain on the reputation of the newly

independent state.

“Europe wanted to make Kosovo a success story, and it

would have been hard to do that if you allowed Thaçi to

be sent to jail,” said Capussela. “But now many can see

that the political winds inside Kosovo have changed.”

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