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Kosovo's Haradinaj Cancels U.S. Visit After 'Failing To Get Visa'

Kosovo's prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, talks during an interview with Reuters in Pristina in October.

A spokesman for the Iowa National Guard says Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj has canceled a planned visit to the U.S. state this week because "he was unable to get a visa."

The spokesman, Colonel Greg Hapgood, told RFE/RL on January 8 that the National Guard's commanding officer, Major General Tim Orr, had invited Haradinaj to an event on January 11.

"It is incredibly unfortunate that he was unable to get a visa to come and join us for that," Hapgood said.

"The explanation was that it's just not going to happen in this time frame, and we did not get a lot of additional information," he added.

The spokesman also said that the event will be attended by Kosovar Deputy Prime Minister Behgjet Pacolli.

An official at Haradinaj's office could not confirm that he had canceled his trip. "We have no confirmation if the visa was rejected." Halil Matoshi told RFE/RL.

Local media in Pristina reported on January 7 that the U.S. Embassy had denied a visa to Haradnaj.

Meanwhile, Kosovo's prime minister wrote in a message on Facebook that he was "still waiting for the visa."

Relations between Kosovo and the United States, its traditionally close ally, have recently cooled over attempts by the Balkan country's leaders to abolish a new war crimes court set up to try ethnic Albanian ex-guerrillas.

Dozens of Kosovo lawmakers on December 22 made a failed bid to revoke the law allowing the tribunal's work to go ahead, after war veterans handed in a petition saying the court was "biased."

A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Pristina on December 29 warned that any renewed efforts to scrap the tribunal "would have profound negative consequences for Kosovo's European future and its relationship with the United States."

The court, based in The Hague, was set up to prosecute crimes allegedly committed by top members of the Kosovo Liberation Army as it battled Serbian forces in their 1998-99 war.

Haradinaj himself is a former guerrilla commander who fought in Kosovo's battle for independence from Serbia.

He has been arrested twice on a warrant from Serbia -- in Slovenia in 2015 and in France in 2017 -- but was released both times.

Haradinaj was also charged with war crimes, tried, and cleared twice by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

NATO air strikes helped the Kosovars drive Serbian forces out in the 1998-99 war.

Western-backed Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by 115 countries, although not by Serbia or Russia.

Haradinaj, the leader of the center-right Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), was appointed prime minister in September, helping to end months of political instability in the Balkan country.