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Kosovo’s Thaci Defends War Record, Calls For Unity After Return From Hague Court

Kosovar President Hashim Thaci (center) leaves the prosecutor's office in The Hague on July 16.
Kosovar President Hashim Thaci (center) leaves the prosecutor's office in The Hague on July 16.

PRISTINA -- Kosovar President Hashim Thaci has again defended his actions during Kosovo's war with Serbia following his return from an international war crimes court in The Hague, and called for unity among the country's political forces as it attempts to normalize ties with its bitter rival.

Thaci's televised address and Facebook comments on July 18 were his first public remarks since returning from The Hague following four days of questioning by prosecutors regarding his actions during Kosovo's guerrilla war for independence from Serbia in the late 1990s.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers (SPO) announced on June 24 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.

Thaci has defended his war record and has denied any wrongdoing.

In his July 18 remarks, he said he had "full respect" for the process of determining the truth of what happened during the war years of 1998-99 and said he was confident that his role in "the liberation struggle for freedom and independence" would be legally justified.

Pristina declared independence from Serbia in 2008. More than 110 countries including the United States now recognize Kosovo, but those who do not accept its independence include -- in addition to Belgrade -- Russia, China, and several EU member states, including Spain, Greece, Slovakia, and Romania.

Many ethnic Albanian Kosovars still bitterly recall years of armed opposition to policies imposed on them by Belgrade ahead of the 1998-99 war that ended in NATO's 78-day bombing campaign that drove Serbian forces out of Kosovo.

Thaci, who was a top commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) during the war, said all of his actions were focused on the defense of Kosovo.

"The glorious resistance, survival, and triumph over an invader, which sought to exterminate the Albanian people of Kosovo from the face of the Earth with the broom of ethnic fascism, will become once and for all untouchable by anyone," Thaci said in his on July 18 broadcast.

Thaci said he underwent some 30 hours of questioning by prosecutors during his four days in The Hague, ending on July 16.

The SPO, which is funded by the European Union, was established to deal with alleged crimes committed in the period January 1998 through December 2000.

It was created by a law passed by Kosovo's parliament in 2015 under pressure from the EU, the United States, and international organizations.

Although the judges, prosecutors, and other court officials are from various countries, the court is being administered under the laws of Kosovo.

A pretrial judge in the SPO has yet to decide whether to put Thaci and the others on trial or throw out the case.

Thaci has told Kosovars that if he is tried, he will immediately resign and face the accusations.

The Kosovar president also called in his July 18 remarks for dialogue between the political forces in Kosovo and for a "healthy" debate between the government and the opposition.

He said unity was crucial as the small, Western-backed state continues to negotiate normalization of ties with larger neighbor Serbia, which has long attempted to balance its ties with the West and that of traditional ally Russia.

"We must speak to the world with one voice and develop the dialogue with Serbia with an exemplary show of unity," he said.

Leaders of Serbia and Kosovo met in Brussels on July 16 for their first face-to-face talks in 20 months under a EU-mediated dialogue process aimed at normalizing relations between the two Balkan neighbors.

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