Kosovo's Thaci accuses international justice of rewriting history

by Briseida Mema with Ismet Hajdari in Pristina
Hashim Thaci has previously said he would comply with the court and that he is innocent

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci on Friday accused international justice of "rewriting history" after he was charged with war crimes linked to the 1990s conflict with Serbia.

Prosecutors at a special Kosovo court in The Hague on Wednesday indicted the former political leader of an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group, prompting him to cancel a planned trip to the US where he was due to discuss lingering tensions with Serbia.

Thaci said on Facebook that he had landed in the Albanian capital Tirana and was headed back to Kosovo, where he will address compatriots on Sunday.

"Nobody can rewrite the history of Kosovo!" he said in his first reaction to the charges.

Thaci's Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) rebelled against Belgrade more than 20 years ago, when Kosovo was a province of Serbia.

He and others were charged by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers of war crimes and crimes against humanity linked to the 1998-99 war that cost about 13,000 lives, overwhelmingly Kosovo Albanians.

- 'Nothing to hide' -

"I remain full of hope that the coming days will be the best for Kosovo and Albania," he said in a Facebook message.

Thaci has previously said he would comply with the court and that he is innocent and has "nothing to hide".

The president and other suspects are accused of murder, enforced disappearance, persecution and torture against "hundreds of known victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities and include political opponents".

His right-hand man Kadri Veseli, the KLA's former spy chief who now leads the political party founded by Thaci, was also accused of the crimes and has rejected them as "untrue".

The charges still need approval from a pre-trial judge but the prosecutors said they made the indictment public because Thaci and others have been trying to "obstruct the work" of the tribunal, which operates under Kosovo law but has international judges.

It is unlikely that Thaci would face arrest before the indictment is approved by a judge, which could take months.

- 'Pure and just war' -

Meanwhile, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the indictment was a "good news."

But he also called for "restraint" to ward off tension that could affect Kosovo's ethnic Serb minority.

"We should try to talk about vital issues and look for compromises with Albanians," Vucic told reporters in Brussels where he met European leaders.

In Kosovo, fans and detractors came to the defence of the rebels who rose up against Belgrade.

The left-wing party Vetevendosje, which is sharply critical of Thaci, described the conflict as a "pure and just war".

The conflict ended after a US-led NATO intervention in 1999 forced Serb troops to withdraw.

About a dozen top Serbian military and police officials were later convicted by international tribunals of war crimes against thousands of ethnic Albanian civilians.

But members of the KLA were also accused of atrocities against Serbs, Roma and ethnic Albanian rivals during and after the war.

Thaci was indicted as he prepared to fly to the US for a summit with Serbian representatives that has now been postponed.

Meanwhile a European Union-brokered dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia that was launched a decade ago could resume in July, according to EU envoy Miroslav Lajcak.

Those talks have been stalled since late 2018.

The French embassy in Kosovo said President Emmanuel Macron remained ready to host a meeting in Paris along with Germany to kickstart the discussions.

Kosovo proclaimed independence in 2008, but Serbia and its key ally Russia do not recognise it.

burs-ev/ljv/wai

Hashim Thaci has previously said he would comply with the court and that he is innocent