Threat to Try Haradinaj Rattles Kosovo

Tribunal’s interrogation of popular former KLA commander sends shockwaves through the territory at a sensitive time.

Threat to Try Haradinaj Rattles Kosovo

Tribunal’s interrogation of popular former KLA commander sends shockwaves through the territory at a sensitive time.

The decision of the Hague tribunal to summon Ramush Haradinaj, leader of third largest party in Kosovo, for questioning, has raised tension in Kosovo, leading some analysts to warn of possible unrest.

Uncertainty over whether the International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, will follow up with an indictment against Haradinaj came as the first trial of Kosovo Albanians opened in the Dutch capital.

The interviews with Haradinaj, expected to become the next prime minister of Kosovo, took place in Pristina on November 10 and 11 and concerned his role as a Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, commander in 1998 and 1999 in the western Dukagjini region.

Hardinaj’s “invitation” to appear before ICTY prosecutors in Pristina came hours after Carla Del Ponte, the tribunal’s chief prosecutor, told a NATO assembly on December 3 that more indictments were on the way.

Del Ponte said that despite a lack of cooperation from the international community and local authorities in Kosovo on investigating the involvement of KLA commanders in war crimes, she believed an indictment against some ex-KLA chiefs would be issued this year.

During the conflict in Kosovo Haradinaj commanded KLA forces around his home-village of Gllogjan, in western Kosovo, an area that saw heavy fighting between Albanians and the Yugoslav army and Serb paramilitary forces in 1998 and 1999.

After the demilitarisation of the KLA and the guerrilla army’s transformation into the Kosovo Protection Corps, KPC, in 1999, Haradinaj became a KPC officer.

In 2000, he quit the KPC to enter politics and formed the third-largest Albanian party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, AAK, which won nine seats in the territory’s assembly in this year’s October 23 general election.

Two of Haradinaj’s brothers were killed during the war, while a third, Daut Haradinaj, another ex-KLA commander, is serving five years in prison in Kosovo for the kidnapping and the murder of local Albanians.

Analysts predict an indictment against Haradinaj would send shockwaves throughout Kosovo, as the former KLA fighter is a popular figure. He has also built up a reputation as a constructive and moderate politician over the past four years since the war.

Since Haradinaj is at the moment the most likely candidate for prime minister of the entity, an indictment raises the possibility that Kosovo might be left without a head of government in 2005.

Question marks over the probable next premier’s fate are also likely to distract the next government from dealing with the list of standards that the international community has set as a pre-condition for opening talks on Kosovo’s final status. Talks are due to begin in 2005.

Almost all Kosovo’s institutions, including the assembly, the government, the presidency and the major parties, have indicated that they do not see Harudinaj’s grilling and possible indictment as a positive contribution to Kosovo’s political processes.

Veton Surroi, leader of ORA, a new political initiative that won seven seats in the last elections, called on other parties in a letter of November 9 to lend institutional and legal support to Haradinaj.

“We support the tribunal’s work, especially as Kosovo was a victim of barbarous crimes,” Surroi said, in the letter. But he added, “At the same time, we express our support for the hero of the liberation war, Ramush Haradinaj.”

Driton Tali, adviser to the current premier, Bajram Rexhepi, warned that Haradinaj’s arrest would damage Kosovo’s security situation, which has been fragile since a wave of ethnic rioting rocked the territory in March.

“Bearing in mind the general frustration in Kosovo, and the pessimism over its future status, its economic stagnation and the beginning of the Limaj trial, it will take little to reach boiling point and see part of a population rebel,” Tali told IWPR earlier this week.

The trial of Fatmir Limaj, another popular KLA commander, and two other former KLA soldiers, Haradin Balaj and Isak Musliu, began on November 15.

The fact that this trial started a week after Haradinaj was asked to talk to ICTY prosecutors has reinforced a perception among Kosovo Albanians that the tribunal is effectively equalising the gravity of Serb and Albanian crimes in Kosovo.

Faik Fazliu, of the War Veterans Association, referring to Haradinaj’s interrogation and the Limaj trial, said, “We cannot allow this equalisation of the crimes of Serb forces with the defensive liberation war of the KLA.”

Ahmet Sadriu, 27, a student of law, said the ethnic ratio of arrests did not correspond to the ethnic ratio of crimes, “Of the seven people most recently arrested by the Hague for war crimes in Kosovo, four are Serbs and three are Albanians, which is totally disproportionate compared to the ratio of victims in the Kosovo war.”

Aleksandra Milenov, outreach officer for the ICTY in Belgrade, said this perception was wrong. She pointed out that besides the four Serb officials already arrested in the period between 1999 and 2003, the tribunal has charged another five Yugoslav nationals for war crimes in Kosovo, of whom four remain at large, while one has died.

Milenov also drew attention to the fact that the charges against the Serbs and the Albanians were not in the same league.

“The Albanians in the Hague are being accused of the torture and murder of approximately 30 Albanian and Serb victims, while Milosevic and his associates are accused of the murder of at least 700 Albanians who can be listed by name and the deportation of 800,000 others, plus others who were tortured and raped,” she said.

Milenov added that the ICTY was not a political institution and that it issued indictments solely in response to the evidence that had been collected.

Scarlett McGwire, a British political analyst who advises Kosovo politicians on public relations, said the tribunal was not helping its public image by appearing to undermine the principle that justice means a person is innocent until proven guilty.

“It is obvious that from the way that Carla Del Ponte speaks about people on trial in the Hague that, to the tribunal, the accused are already guilty,” she said.

Despite Haradinaj’s claim that after the interviews with ICTY he will resume business as usual, neither he nor other former KLA members will be able to breath easily before the end of the year.

It is only then that the deadline for issuing indictments on war crimes in former Yugoslavia expires.

Muhamet Hajrullahu and Arben Salihu are regular IWPR contributors

Balkans, Kosovo
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