Global Policy Forum

Kosovo Chief Resigns and


By Marlise Simons

New York Times
March 9, 2005

Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj of Kosovo unexpectedly resigned Tuesday and agreed to surrender to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, which has indicted him for actions as a guerrilla commander fighting Serbian forces during the 1998-99 war. His decision to step down and answer war crimes charges came as a shock in Kosovo, a Serbian province of close to two million people where he became prime minister in December and where he remains a popular war hero.

In a statement, Haradinaj said he was "innocent of any crime" and felt "insulted by this process." "I feel they are taking me from my job at a time when I am giving the maximum for my country," he added. He said he "never believed" that he would have to make this sacrifice, but was accepting it for the country's sake.

In Kosovo, which is under UN administration, NATO increased its 18,000-member peacekeeping contingent overnight by 1,000 troops, fearing the announcement could set off general unrest or clashes between the Kosovo Albanians and the Serb minority. Haradinaj, 36, appealed for calm and said the charges against him were based on "Serbian lies." His office said he will travel to The Hague on Wednesday.

The surrender of Haradinaj, former chief of the Kosovo Liberation Army, is the latest in a series of new arrivals at the war crimes tribunal that deals with crimes from the 1990s wars that tore apart Yugoslavia. Six high-ranking former Serb and Bosnian Serb officers have turned themselves in since October, an unprecedented development in the court's 10-year history.

The latest to arrive was the former chief of the Serbian Army, General Momcilo Peresic, who checked in at the United Nations prison on Monday. Just days earlier, the court took custody of a top Bosnian general, Rasim Delic, a former army commander. These officers, from opposing sides in wars that took more than 200,000 lives, have gone to The Hague as a result of economic and political pressures from Europe and the United States.

Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo now want to talk about their future in Europe. The European Union has made cooperation with the tribunal a condition for any possible talks about closer ties. At the same time, the war crimes tribunal has been under pressure to step up its pace. The UN Security Council, which created the special court, has demanded that it concentrate only on the highest ranking suspects and close down by 2008.

Kosovo has a particular stake, as its leaders hope to begin talks this year on a bid for independence, which has the backing of the overwhelming majority. One price to be paid, it appears, is the surrender of Haradinaj. Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of NATO hinted as much on Tuesday. "Kosovo is entering a crucial period during which it will be judged on its progress meeting the standards set by the international community," he said in Brussels. "Cooperation with the tribunal is one of those standards."

Haradinaj has had a wide-ranging career that includes a role as a platoon commander in the Yugoslav Army and, later, as a refugee, working as a carpenter, security guard and martial arts teacher in Switzerland. During the Kosovo rebellion against Serbia, he gained a reputation as a tough guerrilla fighter and an effective zone commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army. He was also widely vilified in Belgrade, where the authorities have charged him with several hundred killings and kidnappings.

Haradinaj said Tuesday that his indictment was the "result of the tradeoff that some have made with the Serbian government" to get it to extradite high-ranking Serb war crimes suspects. Tribunal officials have declined to comment. The office of the prosecutor, while confirming that Haradinaj has been indicted, has released no details of the charges against him. But it was widely known in Kosovo that investigators from the tribunal questioned him twice in November. According to reports circulating in Kosovo, investigators focused on the killings of Kosovo Serb civilians and Albanians thought to be collaborators with the Serbs, carried out by men under his command

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