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Kosovo's Thaci To Go To The Hague For Interview With War Crimes Prosecutor

Kosovar President Hashim Thaci (file photo)
Kosovar President Hashim Thaci (file photo)

Kosovar President Hashim Thaci has said that he will travel to The Hague next week to be interviewed by a special prosecutor whose office was set up to pursue allegations of war crimes committed during and after Kosovo's war of independence in the late '90s.

In a message to his country's roughly 2 million citizens, the former guerrilla commander said via Facebook that "many former co-combatants have been interviewed by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, inside and outside of Kosovo," in the past two years.

"I would like to share with you that on Monday [July 13] I will also travel to The Hague, invited by the Specialist Prosecutor's Office, to be interviewed," Thaci said.

Prosecutors from the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (SPO) established with authority under Kosovar law announced unexpectedly on June 24 that Thaci and other prominent Kosovars were the subject of an indictment on suspicion of serious crimes including roles in "nearly 100 murders," enforced disappearances, and torture.

Many 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.

Pristina declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

More than 110 countries including the United States now recognize Kosovo, but those who don't accept its independence include, in addition to Belgrade, neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina, Russia, China, and several EU member states including Spain, Greece, Slovakia, and Romania.

In his statement, Thaci said that "even though a victim," his country had "cooperated with international justice in dealing with allegations of war crimes."

"While my compatriots as well as me will face international justice with dignity and integrity, I call upon you to stand united in dealing with the challenges that our country is facing," Thaci said.

The SPO said a "pretrial judge" was still reviewing whether there was enough evidence against Thaci and the others, who include former parliament speaker and Democratic Party of Kosovo leader Kadri Veseli, to go to trial.

But the June 24 indictment news shattered plans for Thaci to meet with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic at the White House in Washington days later in hopes of a U.S.-mediated breakthrough to normalize Serbia-Kosovo relations.

The special prosecutors said in the statement that they "deemed it necessary" to issue the indictment "because of repeated efforts" by Thaci to obstruct and undermine the SPO's work.

The prosecutors alleged that there were "hundreds of known victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities" that included "political opponents."

Thaci, who had already pledged not to seek a second term when his presidential term runs out next year, is a towering figure in Kosovo's still relatively young political landscape.

Days after the indictment news, Thaci said he would "immediately resign" if a judge in The Hague confirmed the war crimes charges filed against him, including crimes against humanity.

In a prerecorded address to the nation, Thaci rejected the "false" accusations against him and said: "My heart is hurt, but not broken. My mind weighs heavy, but is not bleary. My blood is heated, but clean," according to a transcript distributed by his office.

It is unclear what the longer-term consequences of his indictment will be for him and international efforts to establish normal relations between Pristina and Belgrade, a nagging source of instability in the heart of Europe.

Thaci's trip to The Hague is scheduled to take place the day after Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Vucic are to hold talks in Brussels in hopes of reviving the European Union-backed negotiations that ground to a halt in 2018.

The July 12 meeting will be hosted by EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell. It will follow a video summit on July 10 hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel aimed at easing tensions between Kosovo and Serbia.

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