Kosovo President Hashim Thaci has resigned from office to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at a special court in The Hague.
After the Kosovo Specialist Chamber (KSC) confirmed an indictment on Thursday against Thaci, the president said at a news conference he is quitting “to protect the integrity of the presidency of Kosovo”.
He has denied any wrongdoing.
Thaci, who served as a political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during Kosovo’s fight for independence in 1998-99, departed on Thursday afternoon for his trial in the Netherlands.
Joining him on the military plane were Kadri Veseli, leader of Thaci’s Democratic Party, and Kosovo member of parliament Rexhep Selimi – fellow former leaders of the KLA who have also been indicted – Serbian state news agency Tanjug reported.
Jakup Krasniqi, a veteran politician and former spokesman for the KLA was arrested in Kosovo’s capital Pristina on Wednesday and also transferred to The Hague, the Kosovo war crimes tribunal said in a statement.
Presidential duties have now been handed over to Parliament Speaker Vjosa Osmani.
Here is what you need to know:
What happened during the conflict?
Serbia’s oppression against the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo gave rise to the rebel KLA, founded in the early 1990s. Violence spiralled in 1998-99 as the KLA fought for independence against Belgrade’s forces led by President Slobodan Milosevic.
The war ended in 1999 when NATO bombed Belgrade to stop the killings and expulsions of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo by Serb forces. The war killed more than 10,000 people.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, which Belgrade refuses to recognise.
What are Kosovo officials accused of?
According to the indictment originally issued by the KSC in June, Thaci and nine others committed “nearly 100 murders” and other atrocities against “hundreds of known victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities”, including political opponents.
Some of the allegations are organ trafficking, abductions, mistreatment of detainees and sexual violence, according to Amnesty International.
Why is the indictment important?
Amnesty International’s Balkans researcher Jelena Sesar told Al Jazeera that the indictment is significant as “it focuses on command responsibility by Mr Thaci and KLA leadership for war crimes and crimes against humanity, rather than dealing with isolated incidents”.
“Previous attempts to investigate the KLA were faced with obstruction of justice, including intimidation of potential witnesses and threats to prosecutors and judges,” Sesar said.
“The failure to properly investigate the crimes that took place between 1998-1999 has been a stain on the ICTY’s [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] record and the fact that those suspected of war crimes continued to live freely and occupy senior positions in the government only created a widespread sense of impunity,” Sesar said.