The Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) at The Hague in the Netherlands announced Wednesday that it has filed a 10-count indictment charging Kosovo’s president Hashim Thaci and another Kosovo politician Kadri Vesli of war crimes, including murder, forced disappearance of persons, persecution and torture during the Kosovo independence war in the 1990s.
The announcement came as Thaci was on his way to Washington to meet Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and US Special Envoy Richard Grenell to discuss Kosovo’s status.
A brief history of Kosovo
For more than four centuries, Kosovo – a landlocked country in the Western Balkans with a population of more than 1.8 million situated north of Greece and surrounded by Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia and Montenegro, whose current residents are ethnic Albanians and Serb, Roma and other minority groups – was ruled by the Ottomans. Serbia acquired it during the First Balkan War in 1912-13.
In 1913, Kosovo was partitioned between Serbia and Montenegro. After World War I, Kosovo was incorporated into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which was later named Yougoslavia.
According to an account maintained by the US Department of State, after World War II, Kosovo became an autonomous province of Serbia, following which the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution gave Kosovo the status of a Socialist Autonomous Province within Serbia.
But in 1981, Kosovo Albanians demanded that Kosovo be given full republic status. In the ensuing riots that year, the Kosovo Albanians were “violently suppressed”.
Following this, in the late 80s, Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian president, eliminated Kosovo’s autonomy and imposed direct rule from Belgrade (Serbia’s capital) and ordered the removal of ethnic Albanian state employees, whose jobs were then taken over by Serbs, a minority in Kosovo.
This led to the start of a resistance movement led by Kosovo Albanian leaders in the 1990s, whose main aim was to secure independence for Kosovo. As per the US government account, the leaders set up a parallel government funded by the Albanian diaspora and when this movement failed to show results, it led to the emergence of armed resistance in 1997 in the form of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
In the following years, Milosevic launched a military campaign to crackdown against the KLA, which resulted in ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo. The NATO intervened in 1999. According to an AP report, more than 10,000 people (mostly ethnic Albanians) died and over a million were driven away from their homes until the NATO intervention forced Serbia to pull its troops out of Kosovo and cede control to the UN and NATO.
After the ethnic Albanians returned to Kosovo, some elements of the KLA conducted revenge killings and abductions of ethnic Serbs and Roma as a result of which thousands of people belonging to these ethnicities fled their homes during the latter half of 1999.
So who controls Kosovo now?
In February 2008, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia after years of conflict. While Kosovo’s status is recognised by the US and some countries in the EU, Serbia backed by Russia refuses to do so. Even so, there is little reconciliation between Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians who support independence and the Serbs in Kosovo, who do not recognise it.
What are the charges against Kosovo’s president?
The indictment alleges that Thaci – one of the founders of the KLA – and other charged suspects are responsible for nearly 100 murders of known victims and political opponents of Kosovo Albanian, Serb and Roma ethnicities.
In 1997, Thaci became the chief of the political directorate of the KLA and after the war, he became the prime minister in the provisional government of Kosovo from 1999-2000. He was also the prime minister of Kosovo, elected in November 2007, soon after which, he declared it an independent state.
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So what does the indictment mean?
As of now, the indictment is only an accusation and reflects the SPO’s determination that it can prove the charges against Thaci beyond reasonable doubt. It is now up to the judge at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) to review the indictment and decide if the case will go to trial. The Hague based KSC was set up to try former members of the KLA.
The press statement released by SPO on June 24 mentioned that Thaci and Vesli had repeatedly tried to undermine the work of the KSC and are believed to have carried out a “secret campaign” to overturn the law. “By taking these actions, Mr THAÇI and Mr VESELI have put their personal interests ahead of the victims of their crimes, the rule of law, and all people of Kosovo,” the SPO statement said.
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