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Former Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi on trial in The Hague for war crimes

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Hashim Thaçi, former president of Kosovo, is on trial from Monday in a special court in The Hague, the Netherlands, for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1998-1999 war, which resulted in the independence of the country. He had pleaded not guilty in 2020 during his first appearance.

A former guerrilla leader before the judges. The trial of former Kosovar President Hashim Thaçi, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated during the war of independence (1998-1999) against the Serbian forces, opens Monday, April 3 before a special court in The Hague.

Hashim Thaçi, 54, a former Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) guerrilla, pleaded not guilty in November 2020 in his first appearance before the Kosovo Special Court (KSC). He resigned as Kosovo’s president shortly after his indictment and was transferred to a detention center in The Hague.

Kosovar president since 2016, he resigned after being charged by the KSC with three other suspects, tried alongside him. The four men are suspected of nearly 100 murders, enforced disappearances, persecutions and tortures, acts which would have been committed between March 1998 and September 1999, mainly against Serbs, Roma and Kosovar opponents of the guerrillas.

The trial “offers a chance, after so many years, for victims to learn what happened,” said Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Watch director for Europe and Central Asia. It “also highlights the widespread impunity that still hangs over the Kosovo conflict”, he added.

Demonstration in Pristina to support Hashim Thaçi

At the heart of Kosovar political life for two decades, Hashim Thaçi has constantly proclaimed his innocence, accusing international justice of “rewriting history”. That said, he promised to “collaborate closely with justice”.

The war in Kosovo, opposing Serb forces and Kosovar Albanian separatist guerrillas, left 13,000 dead, mostly Albanian Kosovars. It ended when a Western campaign of airstrikes in the spring of 1999 forced the Serbian forces to withdraw.

>> Kosovo-Serbia: why this renewed tension?

At the end of the war, Hashim Thaçi laid down his arms to put on the clothes of the politician, which led Joe Biden, then vice-president of the United States, to see in him the “George Washington of Kosovo”.

The trial opens at 9 a.m. (0700 GMT), with opening statements from the prosecution and victims’ lawyers. Defense lawyers will speak from Tuesday.

Several thousand people demonstrated on Sunday in Pristina to support the ex-president and the former rebels.

A war considered “just” by a majority in Kosovo

Three other suspects were transferred to The Hague alongside him: former KLA spokesman Jakup Krasniqi, one of Hashim Thaçi’s closest political allies, Kadri Veseli, ex-guerrilla intelligence boss, as well as one of the outstanding figures of the UCK, Rexhep Selimi.

The KSC is a body under Kosovar law composed of international judges and responsible for investigating crimes committed by the KLA during and after the 1998-1999 conflict.

Most people in Kosovo, a territory that declared its independence in 2008, never recognized by Serbia, consider the conflict a “just war” against the forces of Belgrade.

With AFP

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