EU tells Kosovo relations will suffer if it scraps war crimes court

Leader of the Alliance for Future of Kosovo (AAK), Ramush Haradinaj, gestures after he was elected the new Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo in Pristina, Kosovo, 9 September 2017. [Aldrin Xhema/EPA/EFE]

The European Union warned Kosovo today (12 January) that its relations with the bloc will suffer if it scraps a war crimes court linked to its bloody independence struggle.

The EU’s message, echoing one by the United States last month, came amid uncertainty as to whether Kosovo’s parliament will put a vote on the court back on its agenda next week after shelving it on 22 December under US and EU pressure.

“This initiative, still pending before the Kosovo parliament, is of extreme concern to the EU and its member states,” the EU office in Pristina said in a statement. “This would adversely impact Kosovo relations with the EU.”

Envoys from Germany and France arrived in Pristina this week to try to lobby Kosovo leaders to drop any move to abolish the Specialist Chamber set up in 2015 to try ex-Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas alleged to have committed atrocities in the 1998-99 war that led to independence from Serbia.

Kosovo votes for new war crimes court

Kosovo’s parliament voted to change the constitution on Monday (3 August) and create a war crimes court, which the West wants to try ethnic Albanian former guerrillas for alleged war crimes including organ harvesting.

It has yet to hear any cases.

Kosovo media have said the court, based abroad in The Hague, could indict or call as witnesses some current government officials. It was set up in the Netherlands to minimise the risk of witness intimidation and judicial corruption.

Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, President Hashim Thaçi and parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli are former KLA commanders.

Kosovo’s ‘war wing’ coalition wins parliamentary vote

A coalition led by the ruling centre-right Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) came first in Kosovo’s snap parliamentary election yesterday (11 June), but it will have to find a coalition partner to form a stable government, results based on a partial vote count showed.

The court’s judges and prosecutors are foreigners, but authorities in Kosovo have jurisdiction as it was established under Kosovo law.

The United States told Pristina last month the overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian country in the western Balkans would face “isolation” if it abolished the court.

Washington is Kosovo’s staunchest ally but the European Union’s warning also carries weight as the small, impoverished nation hopes for eventual closer ties to the wealthy bloc.

NATO air strikes on Serbia forced it to withdraw troops from Kosovo in 1999 and the US-led alliance keeps 5,000 soldiers there to maintain a fragile peace. More than 100 countries, but not Serbia, recognised Kosovo’s independence in 2008.

Between 10,000 and 12,000 people, mainly ethnic Albanians, were killed in the conflict between the KLA and security forces loyal to then-nationalist Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. A small Serb minority remains in Kosovo.

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