Kosovo PM resigns following summons from Hague war court

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — 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 had agreed to be interviewed at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office next week and didn’t want to appear there as prime minister.

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

Haradinaj, who took office as 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.”

Haradinaj urged Kosovo’s president to call an early parliamentary election and said he would be a candidate so he could return as prime minister “because I am not accused.”

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office were established at the European Union’s urging after the Council of Europe, a human rights body, in 2011 reported allegations of widespread war crimes committed by the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army.

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.

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.

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This story has been corrected to show a U.N. tribunal acquitted Haradinaj twice, not three times.

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Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

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Llazar Semini on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lsemini

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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