The Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) says Kosovar President Hashim Thaci is trying to “undercut” a Hague-based court’s mandate as it investigates alleged war crimes committed during the country’s violent separation from Serbia.
In a statement published online, the SPO, which announced in June that Thaci and other prominent Kosovars were the subject of an indictment on suspicion of serious crimes, including "nearly 100 murders," enforced disappearances, and torture, said "there is good reason to believe" the president has been acting as part of a "larger strategy to undercut the court."
At issue are legal amendments Thaci has proposed that would give lawmakers in Kosovo the power to extend the mandate of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) for another five years.
The SPO warned in its statement that its mandate lasts until "notification of completion is made by the Council of the European Union," and Thaci’s move could imply that the mandate already expired.
"A potential consequence of that position would be the invalidation of all actions taken by the KSC/SPO since that time, notably including any confirmation of the indictment against Mr. Thaci himself," the statement said.
“…the fact that the amendments are proposed by a president who is the subject of an indictment submitted by the SPO relating to war crimes and crimes against humanity warrants assessing them with particular scrutiny,” it said, adding that since Thaci is not a “disinterested party,” there is “good reason to believe that the proposed amendments are part of a larger strategy to undercut the court.”
The KSC for war crimes is mandated to look into allegations that members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1998-99 war to gain independence from Serbia.
It operates under Kosovar law but is based in the Netherlands to shield witnesses from intimidation.
Last month, it made its first arrest, detaining the former head of the intelligence service of the Kosovo Security Force, Salih Mustafa, on the basis of an arrest warrant and a confirmed indictment issued by a pretrial judge of the KSC.
The independence war with Serbia left more than 10,000 people dead -- most of them ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. More than 1,600 people remain unaccounted for. The fighting ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign against Serbia.
Kosovo, which has a largely ethnic Albanian population, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by many Western states but not Serbia or its allies Russia and China.