Kosovo: Former premier acquitted of war crimes in The Hague

The Hague, 3 April (AKI) – Former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj on Thursday was acquitted of war crimes by The international Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

Ramush Haradinaj was found not guilty of 37 charges, including murder, persecution, rape and torture against Serbs and other civilians during the Kosovo rebellion against Belgrade in 1998.

The judge said much of the evidence was inconclusive and he complained of witness intimidation.

The 38-year-old former premier and another defendant Idriz Balaj will be freed. A third indictee, Lah Brahimaj, Haradinaj’s uncle was sentenced to six years in jail.  

Haradinaj was a commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in western Kosovo. He was accused of driving Serb and Roma civilians from their homes, and targeting Kosovo Albanians, suspected of collaborating with Serb forces.

Prosecutor David Re had asked for a 25-year sentence for all three defendants, arguing that Haradinaj was a KLA boss in western Kosovo and clearly responsible for the violent crimes for which he had been charged. 

“There was a saying: 'God in heaven, Haradinaj on earth'," Re said when he summed up his case in January.

When Haradinaj was indicted in 2005, he resigned as prime minister and willingly took part in the trial.

But Haradinaj’s acquittal is certain to complicate Belgrade’s relations with the tribunal and hamper the arrest of the remaining four fugitives, including war time Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his general Ratko Mladic.    

Former ICTY prosecutor Carla del Ponte repeatedly complained about difficulties in securing witnesses against Haradinaj and his accomplices because of intimidation.

Several potential witnesses were killed before the trial. Del Ponte also accused United Nations administration in Kosovo for a lack of co-operation with the tribunal. 

Kosovo has been under UN control since Serbian forces withdrew from the province in 1999 and former head of the UN administration Soren Jessen Petersen described Haradinaj a “dear friend”.

The country declared independence from Serbia in February and local television carried the sentence live from The Hague on Thursday.

Kosovo president Fatmir Seidiu said earlier on Thursday that he had written to the court, saying he believed in Haradinaj’s innocence and hoped the court would pass “a just verdict”.

Serbian president Boris Tadic said before the sentence Haradinaj’s acquittal would send a bad message to minority Serbs in Kosovo.

“That would be no justice and certainly wouldn’t encourage Serbs and non-Albanians to have a peaceful and safe life in Kosovo,” Tadic said.

The ICTY has indicted 161 individuals, mostly Serbs, for crimes allegedly committed in the last decade of the Balkan wars. More than fifty have been sentenced to over 700 years in prison.


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