PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) – Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, a guerrilla leader in Kosovo’s war for independence from Serbia in the late 1990s, resigned on Thursday and will face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in a special court based in The Hague.
Thaci said he was taking steps “to protect the integrity of Kosovo’s presidency” and to preserve historical truths about who is the culprit and who is the victim, in the conflict.
“We are free and avenged lovers,” said Thaci, 52, at a press conference in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. “That̵7;s why there are no claims that can rewrite history. Kosovo was a victim. Serbia was an invader. “
Thaci was indicted in the summer by a special court in Kosovo based in The Hague, Netherlands along with nine former rebel leaders, established to hear charges of former rebel leaders. Albania. The charges included murder, forced disappearance, arrest and torture.
Among those charged was Kadri Veseli, a former parliamentary speaker and an opposition party leader who said he planned to go to The Hague on Thursday and resigned “all operations. public politics ”.
Both Thaci and Veseli deny the offense.
Thaci, a commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army during the war, said he was proud to belong to that force, calling it “the greatest value of the nation of Albania”.
He called the indictment “the smallest price we have to pay for the freedom of our people”.
The government said in a statement that all defendants should be considered innocent unless the court decides otherwise.
“No one can judge our fight for freedom,” the government said, adding that the KLA “fought for the liberation of our country, to protect the house, not in one. the land was unfamiliar, and therefore it enjoyed the support of the international community. “
The indictments were filed by the court and a related Special Prosecutor’s Office was established five years ago.
Amnesty International Balkans researcher Jelena Sesar says the indictment of Thaci and nine others will give hope to “the thousands of victims of the Kosovo war, who have waited for more than two decades. period to find out the truth about the horrible crimes committed against them and loved ones. ”
The exact details of the 10-charge indictment against Thaci, Veseli and others have yet to be released. Announcing the existence of the indictment earlier this year, the Special Prosecutor’s Office alleges that the men were “criminally responsible for nearly 100 homicides.”
At the time, the prosecutor’s office said it made public the existence of the indictment because of what it called Thaci and Veseli’s repeated attempts “to obstruct and sabotage” the court’s work. judgments and say they are said to have tried to overthrow the Kosovo law created by the court.
The establishment of the tribunal and prosecutor’s office followed a 2011 report by the Council of Europe, a human rights body, that included allegations that KLA fighters were trafficking in human organs obtained from prisoners and murdered Serbs and fellow Albanians.
Sesar, an expert at Amnesty International, said that the “culture of no punishment” existed in Kosovo because it took almost 10 years for people suspected of criminal responsibility to be brought to court.
After the war, Thaci founded the Kosovo Democratic Party and has served as foreign minister, deputy prime minister, prime minister and current president since April 2016.
Kosovo-Serbia relations remained strained 21 years after the war ended, despite nine years of negotiations mediated by the European Union and supported by the US.
The indictment was released in June when Thaci was en route to a meeting at the White House with Serb counterpart Aleksandar Vucic. That meeting was held with the Kosovo prime minister instead of September.
The 1998-1999 war killed more than 10,000 people – most of them Albanians – and 1,641 remains unidentified.
It ended with a 78-day NATO airstrike campaign against the Serbian army.
In 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, something that Serbia has yet to recognize.
Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, and Mike Corder in The Hague, The Netherlands, contributed to the report.