A French appeals court has turned down a Serbian request for the extradition of former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, who was a rebel commander during the 1998-99 Kosovo war.
The Serbian government, which considers Haradinaj a war ciminal, called an urgent cabinet meeting to discuss the refusal on Thursday.
The French court released Haradinaj with immediate effect.
Authorities had detained him as he flew into France on January 4 after a request from Serbia, which wants to put him on trial over his role in leading the insurgency in its former southern province of Kosovo.
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The arrest further strained ties between Serbia and Kosovo, which declared independence with Western backing in 2008 and has demanded that Belgrade drop its efforts to prosecute people linked to the conflict.
In Serbia, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic’s government scheduled an urgent session at 10:00 GMT to discuss its future moves after Haradinaj’s release.
“We have to consider all implications of this move,” a government official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters. He declined to elaborate.
In January, Serbia said it would hit back if France declined to extradite Haradinaj, now a Kosovo opposition politician.
Also, pro-government media in Serbia swiftly described the French court ruling as “shameful”.
Parties to the case have five days to appeal.
Haradinaj’s lawyer, Rachel Lindon, said the court ruled against the extradition because he would not have had a fair and balanced trial if sent to Serbia.
“He lost three and half months” of his life waiting for this decision, Lindon told AP news agency, “but happily it’s over”. She said it is unclear whether he will stay in France.
Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci said the court decision was “good news for the Haradinaj family and Kosovo”.
“Once again it is proven that the slanders of the Serb secret services against the Kosovo Liberation Army [the wartime rebel force] are unfounded and not taken into consideration by the democratic world,” Thaci said in a statement.
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A Serbian court has charged Haradinaj with killings, torture and abductions of Serbs, ethnic Albanians and minority Roma people during and after the 1999-1999 war. Officials said all evidence have been handed over to the French court.
In 2005 and 2007, Haradinaj was tried and acquitted of war crimes at a UN tribunal in The Hague.
The Kosovo conflict ended after NATO bombed the now-defunct Yugoslavia, comprised of Serbia and Montenegro, for 78 days to force a pullout of its troops and end a counterinsurgency campaign against ethnic Albanians.