Kosovo President charged with war crimes cancels White House visit
Posted June 25, 2020 4:48 p.m. EDT
CNN — Kosovan President Hashim Thaci has been indicted for war crimes allegedly committed during the Kosovo conflict in the late 1990s, leading him to cancel a planned trip to the White House this weekend for talks with Serbian leaders.
The charges against Thaci were announced Wednesday by a special court at The Hague, in the Netherlands.
According to a press statement, the Specialist Prosecutor's Office filed a 10-count indictment on April 24 that accuses Thaci, Kadri Veseli, the former Chairman of the Assembly of Kosovo, and others of "a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture."
It added that a pre-trial judge was reviewing the indictment "to decide on whether to confirm the charges."
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia a decade after the bloody conflict between Serb forces and Kosovar-Albanian rebels began. The war, from 1998 to 1999, led to thousands of deaths and the displacement of nearly 90% of Kosovo's population.
Thaci came to prominence as a leading figure in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) between 1997 and 1999 and played a part in peace negotiations.
His transition from a revolutionary into a politician eventually led to him to becoming Prime Minister when independence was declared. He was elected President in February 2016.
Wednesday's indictment alleges that Thaci, Veseli and other charged suspects "are criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders. The crimes alleged in the Indictment involve hundreds of known victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities and include political opponents," the statement said.
CNN has reached out to the offices of Thaci and of Veseli, who is president of the Kosovo Democratic Party, for comment.
Kosovo's Ambassador to the US Vlora Çitaku said in a tweet that "When the dust settles & the smoke clears, #KLA will remain the most successful liberation movement in modern history."
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) and Specialist Prosecutor's Office (SPO) was set up to have jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the Kosovo conflict between January 1998 and December 2000.
Thaci was due to visit the White House for talks with Serbian representatives but canceled his trip following the SPO announcement, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations, Richard Grenell, tweeted Wednesday.
The United States is among more than 100 countries to recognize Kosovo as an independent, sovereign state, according to the US State Department. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's independence.
"I respect his decision not to attend the discussions until the legal issues of those allegations are settled," Grenell said. Saturday's discussions would be led by Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, the US envoy added.
However, Hoti -- who took office only three weeks ago -- said Thursday that he could not travel to Washington in light of developments in Pristina, Kosovo's capital.
"Only through dialogue we can solve our disputes with Serbia, resulting on mutual recognition and normalization of relations. My Government does not comment issues related to the Special Chambers. Kosovo will fully respect its international obligations," he tweeted.
The Kosovo government said in a statement that it "considers that no one should be considered guilty without a final decision by the Court" and urged all citizens to remain calm.
"The Government believes that the war of the people of Kosovo and Kosovo Liberation Army was just and for its freedom and should therefore remain as the most important period of the country's history," the statement said.
Thaci's official website confirmed that his trip to Washington had been canceled because of the indictment but made no comment with regards to the allegations against him.
The SPO statement points out that the indictment is only an accusation -- but adds that it is "the result of a lengthy investigation and reflects the SPO's determination that it can prove all of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt."
The SPO also states that it has gone public with the indictment because Thaci and Veseli have allegedly repeatedly attempted to "obstruct and undermine" the court's work.
The two 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. By taking these actions, (Thaci and Veseli) have put their personal interests ahead of the victims of their crimes, the rule of law, and all people of Kosovo," the statement said.