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Haradinaj: Kosovo Ready For Dialogue With Belgrade As Long As Serb Enclave Not A Condition

Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj (file photo)
Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj (file photo)

Outgoing Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj says Kosovo is ready for dialogue with Serbia, but only if Belgrade refrains from pushing for the establishment of an ethnic-Serb enclave on Kosovar territory.

"We are not against dialogue [with Serbia]. In whatever stage it is, at any given time, Kosovo does do its part. But dialogue is unconditional and cannot be about a division [of Kosovo] and a 'Dodik republic' in it," Haradinaj told RFE/RL on July 22, referring to creating an entity similar to the Serbian enclave -- Republika Srpska -- in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Numbering some 150,000 people out of a total of 1.8 million, Serbs are the largest ethnic minority and are mostly -- but not only -- located in northern Kosovo.

Haradinaj, who started his current term as prime minister in September 2017, resigned last week after being designated as a suspect by a Hague-based court that pursues serious crimes committed during and immediately after the 1998-99 Kosovo War.

He reiterated that he decided to step down because he did not want to appear before the court as prime minister.

"I could not take the entire state in front of the investigators. For this reason, I resigned -- in order to preserve the honor of the state and that of the prime minister's office," he said.

Haradinaj: I Resigned To Protect Kosovo's Sovereignty
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Immediately after his resignation, Haradinaj called on President Hashim Thaci to call early elections. He has said he and his government would continue running the country in a caretaker capacity until a new prime minister is chosen.

It was the second time Haradinaj has stepped down as a result of accusations from The Hague.

Haradinaj's first resignation from the post of prime minister came in 2005, after he was indicted by the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with his wartime role as a top commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Haradinaj, who heads the political party Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, has twice been acquitted of war-related charges, in 2008 and again in 2012.

"I have proven innocence two times before, and that’s why I made the decision [to go to The Hague]," he told RFE/RL.

A bloody Serb crackdown against Albanian separatists and civilians in the then-Serbian province of Kosovo led NATO to intervene by bombing Serbia in spring 1999.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 and it is recognized as a nation by the United States and most of the West, but not by Serbia and allies Russia and China.

EU-brokered talks to normalize ties between Kosovo and Serbia stalled last year after Haradinaj won approval for a 100 percent tax on imported Serb goods until Belgrade recognizes Pristina.

The government in Pristina resisted appeals from the United States and the European Union to scrap or suspend the tax.

"The dialogue [with Belgrade] should be based on reciprocal recognition within the existing borders [of Kosovo] and about mutual respect," Haradinaj said.

"This applies also to our [economic sovereignty] -- the tariffs will be revoked in case of [statehood] recognition [by Serbia]."