Kosovo PM resigns following Hague war crimes court summons

FILE - In this Friday, Dec. 3, 2004 file photo, Ramush Haradinaj, right, former rebel commander elected Kosovo's Prime Minister, listens during the inaugural session of Kosovo's parliament in Kosovo's capital Pristina. Kosovo’s prime minister has resigned from the post after he has been invited to be questioned from a European Union-funded court investigating crimes against ethnic Serbs during and after the 1998-99 independence war with Serbia. Haradinaj said on Friday, July 19, 2019 he had informed the Cabinet of his resignation and urged the country’s president to set a date for an early parliamentary election. (AP Photo / Visar Kryeziu)
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Kosovo’s prime minister resigned Friday after being invited for questioning by a Hague-based court investigating crimes against ethnic Serbs during and after the country’s 1998-99 war.

Ramush Haradinaj said he agreed to be interviewed at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers next week and didn’t want to appear there as prime minister. However, he said he and his Cabinet would continue running the country until a new prime minister is chosen.

“I considered that I cannot go to the questioning as head of the government,” Haradinaj said at a news conference.

Haradinaj urged Kosovar President Hashim Thaci to call an early parliamentary election and said he would be a candidate in hopes of regaining office. He said the special court summoned him as a suspect but also told reporters he wanted to run for reelection “because I am not accused.”

Kosovar President Hashim Thaci wrote on his Facebook page that he would take the necessary steps to install a new government.

Haradinaj’s government held together Cabinet was held with a delicate balance in the 120-seat parliament with some votes from the ethnic Serb minority parties too.

Haradinaj, who became prime minister in September 2017, said that while he thought the summons was politically bad for Kosovo, “I will respect the legal request. I will go there. I will defend myself as a fighter of my country.”

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers and a separate Specialist Prosecutor’s Office were established in 2015 based on war crimes allegations against the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army catalogued by the Council of Europe, a human rights body.

A 2011 council report reported allegations that included the trafficking of human organs from prisoners and killings of Serbs and KLA members’ fellow ethnic Albanians.

The court, which is part of the Kosovo judicial system despite being based in the Netherlands, started questioning former Kosovo fighters this year. Haradinaj was one of the top KLA commanders during the war.

He has been prosecuted for alleged war crimes and acquitted twice before. A United Nations tribunal first cleared him of war crimes and crimes against humanity charges in 2008.

The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia concluded in 2010 that witnesses had been intimidated and sent the case back for a partial retrial. Haradinaj and two other former KLA commanders were acquitted in November 2012.

A French court refused to extradite him to Serbia to face war crimes charges there, expressing concern he would not get a fair trial.

At the time of the war, Kosovo was a Serbian province and KLA members mostly were ethnic Albanians. A bloody Serb crackdown against Kosovo Albanian separatists and civilians led NATO to intervene by bombing Serbia in spring 1999.

Thaci said Friday that one of his advisers, Bislim Zyrapi, and other former top KLA commanders also were to be questioned at the Hague.

“I believe in the purity of the KLA war and the high moral values of the freedom fighters,” he said.

Kosovo eventually made a unilateral declaration of independence in 2008 and it is recognized as a nation by the U.S. and most of the West, but not by Serbia and allies Russia and China.

A European Union-facilitated dialogue to normalize ties between Kosovo and Serbia stalled last year after Haradinaj won approval for a 100% tax on imported Serb goods until Belgrade recognizes Pristina.

Haradinaj resisted entreaties from the United States and the EU to lift or suspend the tax.

“Kosovo is having an unfair pressure for the price of Serbia’s recognition,” he said Friday.

His resignation does not mean the tax will be lifted soon. Holding an election and forming a new government has taken at least three months in previous years.q