PRISTINA -- A prosecutor in The Hague has indicted Kosovar President Hashim Thaci, former parliamentary chairman Kadri Veseli, and “others” for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during or after the 1998-1999 Kosovo conflict.
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The Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) said in a statement on June 24 that the suspects “are criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders,” as well as the “enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture.”
The alleged crimes involved “hundreds of known victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities and include political opponents,” according to the SPO.
Thaci and Veseli were commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group that fought against Belgrade’s security forces in the 1998-99 war.
Veseli, who currently leads the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and continues to serve as a lawmaker, denied "any involvement in any crime" and said he is "proud to have taken part in the liberation war of the Kosovo people."
Thaci has previously denied involvement in any war crimes.
After the SPO’s announcement, his office said he had cut short a trip to the United States and would be back to Kosovo on June 25.
The Kosovar president was scheduled to meet with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic at the White House on June 27 for talks aimed at leading to a normalization of relations.
A 10-count indictment was filed with the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) in The Hague on April 24, but the prosecutor decided to unveil them publicly two months later.
Prosecutors said the charges resulted from a "lengthy investigation" and they were confident they can prove "all charges beyond a reasonable doubt."
A KSC pretrial judge is currently reviewing the indictment to decide on whether to confirm the charges.
The prosecutor also accused Thaci and Veseli of repeated efforts “to obstruct and undermine the work" of the tribunal.
The two men “are believed to have carried out a secret campaign to overturn the law creating the Court and otherwise obstruct the work of the Court in an attempt to ensure that they do not face justice,” the statement said.
“By taking these actions, Mr. Thaci and Mr. Veseli have put their personal interests ahead of the victims of their crimes, the rule of law, and all people of Kosovo,” it added.
In his statement, Veseli rejected the prosecutor’s claims as "completely untrue."
“Considering the time and circumstances, a few days before the meeting at the White House, it really raises doubts [that the SPO’s announcement] is a coincidence. No prosecutor should ever allow his decisions to be guided by political motives," he also said.
Kosovo was part of Serbia until an armed uprising by the ethnic Albanian majority population in 1998-99 triggered a Serbian crackdown.
The conflict ended following a 78-day NATO bombing campaign to force Serbian troops out of Kosovo.
The war left more than 10,000 dead and over 1,600 are still unaccounted for.
The former Serbian province declared independence in 2008 -- a move Serbia, Russia, and a handful of European Union member states refuse to recognize.
The KSC was established in 2015 to investigate crimes committed during and after the war in Kosovo.
A European Union spokesman said the bloc does not comment on proceedings of the SPO and the KSC, but said it is a “strong supporter” of their work.
“They are an important demonstration of Kosovo’s commitment to the rule of law, which in turn is a core element for Kosovo’s progress on the EU integration path and for the EU engagement with the Western Balkans as a whole,” Peter Stano said.
He added that the SPO and the KSC should be able to “continue to do their work independently, without any outside interference.”
In a statement, Kosovo’s government called on Kosovars to show calm and insisted that no one is guilty until a final court verdict.
"The government believes that the struggle of the people of Kosovo and the Kosovo Liberation Army has been just...and will remain one of the most important periods in the country’s history," it said.
Former Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj expressed his belief in the two men’s innocence, saying on his Facebook page that the UCK had fought a "clean war" that resulted in an independent Kosovo.
Isa Mustafa, the leader of the ruling Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), said he believed the war waged by the UCK “was, and will be confirmed by international justice, as just and clean.”
The leader of the Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party, Albin Kurti, called the indictments a “consequence of old mistakes.”
"Kosovo should have had its own independent and impartial judiciary to investigate, try, and punish all war crimes…especially those caused by Serbia in Kosovo."