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.
Last week, a special prosecutor’s office said it had indicted President Hashim Thaci, former parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli and others for murder, enforced disappearances, persecution and torture.
The Kosovo Specialist Chamber was set up in The Hague in 2015 to handle cases of alleged crimes by Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters during the war that led to Kosovo’s independence from Serbia a decade later.
“I may have made political mistakes in peace, but war crimes, never!” Thaci said in a televised address.
Thaci and Veseli were among the ex-top commanders in the KLA. Veseli also has denied all the accusations.
Thaci was travelling to Washington, DC in the United States 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.
Thaci said the meeting being called off was “a strong blow to the opportunity of achieving peace between Kosovo and Serbia”.
A judge will now take several months to decide whether the cases built by the special prosecutor’s office are strong enough to put Thaci, charged with nearly 100 murders, and the others on trial.
“I assure you [citizens] again, I will not face justice from this office,” Thaci said. “If the accusation is confirmed, I will immediately resign as your president and face the accusations.”
The Specialist Chamber is governed by Kosovo law, but is staffed by international judges and prosecutors.
War crimes allegations against the KLA first surfaced in a 2011 report by the Council of Europe rights agency that accused fighters of killing civilian Serbs and ethnic Albanian political opponents during the 1998-99 conflict.
Local efforts to investigate alleged KLA war crimes have so far been foiled by widespread intimidation in the tiny state, where clan loyalties run deep and former rebels are lionised.
The special prosecutor’s office is based in the Netherlands partly to help ensure the protection of witnesses.