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 had been due to discuss lingering tensions with Serbia.
Thaci said on Facebook he had landed in the Albanian capital Tirana and was on his way back to Kosovo, where he will address his 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, though a court spokesperson declined to specify.
– ‘Pure and just war’ –
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 while he was to travel to the US for a summit with Serbia on Saturday that has now been postponed.
The cancellation of the meeting brought back in the spotlight the European Union-brokered dialogue between the former foes launched a decade ago.
The talks, deadlocked since late 2018, could resume in July, according to EU envoy Miroslav Lajcak.
The French embassy in Kosovo said President Emmanuel Macron remained ready to host in Paris, along with Germany, a summit to encourage a relaunch of the talks.
Kosovo proclaimed independence in 2008, but Serbia like its ally Russia still does not recognise the move.