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'Historical Injustice': Kosovo's President Pledges To Sign Legislation Abolishing War Crimes Court

Kosovo's Thaci Says He Would Sign Law Abolishing War Crimes Court
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PRISTINA -- Kosovar President Hashim Thaci says he will sign legislation to abolish a special court at The Hague that was set up to prosecute war crimes if it is passed by Kosovo's parliament.

In an interview with RFE/RL on December 27, Thaci said that he is not "encouraging lawmakers" to pass such a bill but added: "I will sign any decision" made by parliament on the matter.

Lawmakers from the governing coalition are pressing for a vote to abolish the court, which was established to prosecute alleged war crimes by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against ethnic Serbs during Kosovo's 1998-99 war for independence.

The court was set up in 2015 in the Netherlands and put under Kosovo's jurisdiction.

“The initiative of some 50 deputies of the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo should be understood as an alternative and not as a challenge to justice -- not as ignorance or [an attempt to] escape from justice,” said Thaci.

“Serbia had invaded Kosovo and it was a defensive war of the liberators and the people of Kosovo,” he added, calling the court a "historical injustice."

Thaci, who was a KLA commander, said that if he did not sign such a law he would "violate the constitution.”

An attempt to vote on the bill failed last week after an opposition boycott kept parliament from having a quorum.

Kosovar parliament speaker Kadri Veseli -- who along with Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj was also a KLA commander -- said lawmakers would try to hold a vote on the issue in the coming days.

The Specialist Chamber in The Hague was established as a result of pressure by the United States and the European Union for Kosovo's government to hold accountable those responsible for alleged KLA war crimes against ethnic Serbs.

It has not yet charged anyone with war crimes or held any court sessions.

The United States and EU have strongly opposed any attempt to abolish the court.

Isa Mustafa, Kosovo’s former prime minister and an opposition leader, said the proposal was "devastating for our state and very damaging for justice."

The court's judges and prosecutors are foreign but it has been set up under Kosovar law, giving Pristina jurisdiction over it.

U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Greg Delawie said on December 22 that shutting down the court would have "extraordinarily negative implications" for Kosovo.

He said it would be "a disgrace" if Kosovar deputies abolished the court and "considered by the U.S. as stab in the back." He added that "Kosovo will be choosing isolation instead of cooperation" if it does away with the court.

The United States has been the top political and financial backer of Kosovo since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Nataliya Apostolova, the EU representative in Pristina, called the attempt to scrap the court "appalling and extremely damaging."

NATO air strikes on Serbia forced Belgrade to withdraw its troops from Kosovo in 1999, having killed some 10,000 ethnic Albanian civilians. There are some 5,000 NATO troops stationed in Kosovo, which is recognized by 116 countries but not Serbia.

Kosovo's population is more than 90 percent ethnic Albanians and about 5 percent Serbs.

With reporting by Reuters

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