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U.S. Warns Kosovo Against Scrapping War Crimes Court

U.S. Ambassador Greg Delawie speaks to reporters in Pristina on January 17.
U.S. Ambassador Greg Delawie speaks to reporters in Pristina on January 17.

The U.S. ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, has warned the country's politicians that they will bear “specific and harsh consequences” should their efforts to abolish a new war crimes court succeed.

“Let me be clear: MPs who support this initiative -- and the politicians who lead it, despite their denials -- will be subject to specific and harsh consequences should the initiative succeed. They know this; we’ve told them,” Delawie told reporters in Pristina on January 17.

Meanwhile, parliament put off decision on whether to put forward a vote to scrap legislation on setting up the Special Court, which would try ethnic Albanian guerrillas accused of committing war crimes as they battled Serbian forces in their 1998-99 war.

In December, dozens of Kosovar lawmakers made a failed bid to revoke the law, after war veterans handed in a petition saying the court was "biased."

Relations between Kosovo and the United States, its traditionally close ally, have cooled over the initiative.

And on January 12, the European Union warned Kosovo, which aspires to closer links with the bloc, that bilateral relations will suffer if it scrapped the law establishing it.

A law establishing the Special Court was passed in 2015 to prosecute crimes allegedly committed by fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) or other Kosovar citizens during the 1998-99 war that led to independence from Serbia.

The tribunal, composed of international judges and prosecutors, was set up in The Hague to minimize the risk of witness intimidation and judicial corruption.

It has yet to hear any cases.

Delawie told journalists on January 17 that the initiative to scrap the court was "a terrible example" of self-centered interests prevailing "over the common good and Kosovo's interests as a state."

He said that Kosovo needs an outside mechanism as its justice system “has not yet demonstrated itself capable of administering justice in high-profile cases and witnesses “continue to be subject to intimidation, threats, and violence.”

"Certain individuals who fought for the just cause of Kosovo's freedom committed egregious crimes against others, for which they must be held accountable," he also said.

The Kosovo conflict ended in 1999 after a three-month NATO air campaign that forced Serbian forces out of the province and put it under UN protection.

Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority declared unilateral independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by 114 states but not by Serbia.

The war killed around 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians.

"Our intervention in 1999 was based on the idea that war crimes against anyone, anywhere, were an assault on international justice," Delawie said.

President Hashim Thaci, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, and parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli are all former KLA commanders and could potentially be indicted by the court or called as witnesses, local media reported.

With reporting by AP and Reuters