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Kosovo president rejects war crimes accusations, will not quit for now

FILE PHOTO: Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci attends an interview with Reuters in Berlin

FILE PHOTO: Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci attends an interview with Reuters in Berlin, Germany, April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

June 29, 2020

PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo President Hashim Thaci on Monday rejected an indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and said he would not resign unless a judge confirmed that he would be put on trial.

Last week, a special prosecutor’s office dealing with Kosovo’s 1998-99 uprising against Serbian rule said it had indicted Thaci, former parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli and others for murder, enforced disappearances, persecution and torture.

The Specialist Chamber was set up in The Hague in 2015 to handle cases of alleged crimes by Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas during the war that led to Kosovo’s independence from Serbia a decade later.

“I may have made political mistakes in peace, but war crimes, never!” Thaci said in a televised address.

Thaci and Veseli were one of the ex-top commanders in the KLA. Veseli also has denied all the accusations.

A judge will now take several months to decide whether the cases built by the special prosecutor’s office are strong enough to put Thaci, charged with nearly 100 murders, and the others on trial.

“I assure you (citizens) again, I will not face justice from this office,” Thaci said. “If the accusation is confirmed, I will immediately resign as your president and face the accusations.”

The Specialist Chamber is governed by Kosovo law but is staffed by international judges and prosecutors.

War crimes allegations against the KLA first surfaced in a 2011 report by the Council of Europe rights agency that accused guerrillas of killing civilian Serbs and ethnic Albanian political opponents during the 1998-99 conflict.

Local efforts to investigate alleged KLA war crimes have so far been foiled by widespread intimidation in the tiny state, where clan loyalties run deep and former rebels are lionised.

The special prosecutor’s office is based in the Netherlands partly to help ensure protection of witnesses.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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