Kosovo prime minister cancels trip to US for talks with Serbia
By SYLEJMAN KLLOKOQI AND LLAZAR SEMINI | Associated Press | Published: June 25, 2020
PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo's prime minister on Thursday canceled his trip to Washington, where leaders of Kosovo and Serbia had planned to meet for talks at the White House.
Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti said he abandoned the trip after the country's president, Hashim Thaci, and nine other former separatist fighters were indicted on a range of charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Hoti said he informed U.S. envoy Richard Grenell of his decision, which is likely to torpedo the talks. Thaci also called off his trip to Washington after learning of his indictment Wednesday.
Hoti was in Brussels on Thursday, where he met with European Council President Charles Michel to talk about visa rules, the coronavirus impact and other issues.
The Washington meeting on Saturday was to be the first talks between the two countries in 19 months. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move Serbia has not recognized.
On Wednesday, the prosecutor for the Kosovo Specialist Chambers said Thaci and the nine others "are criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders" of Serbs and Roma, as well as Kosovo Albanian political opponents. Other charges include enforced disappearance, persecution and torture, he said.
A pretrial judge at The Hague-based court is studying the indictment and could still reject it if there is not enough evidence to back it up.
The Washington meeting will not now happen, said independent analyst Agron Bajrami, adding that the future of the entire Kosovo-Serbia dialogue is in doubt.
"It will be very difficult for him (Thaci) to continue acting acting as a president, if not for anything else but for the fact that he cannot be part of the dialogue now that this has occurred," said Bajrami.
Isa Mustafa, leader of the ruling Democratic League of Kosovo, said that the country's political parties should first convene and talk before meeting with Serbia. He also called for all institutions to continue to operate normally, or "it would be an illusion we could continue toward an agreement."
Parliament postponed Thursday's normal weekly session.
Thaci was a commander of the Kosovo Liberation army, or KLA, that fought for independence from Serbia. The fighting left more than 10,000 dead — most of them ethnic Albanians — and 1,641 are still unaccounted-for. It ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign that forced Serbian troops to stop their brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Those indicted include Kadri Veseli, former parliament speaker and leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo, who said he considered the indictment politically motivated.
The indictment was the first made by the prosecutor of the special tribunal for Kosovo based in The Hague. The court has been operating since 2015 and has questioned hundreds of witnesses. Another Kosovo prime minister resigned last year before he was questioned.
Hysni Gucati, head of the war veterans organization, accused the Special Court of being "a racist court because it is unilateral." He mentioned some 460 massacres, more than 16,000 dead, including 1,200 children and 200,000 houses burned during the 1998-99 war.
He also said the court was politically motivated and the indictments were likely an act of revenge by Europe, which was left out when Thaci turned toward the U.S. to take the leading role in the dialogue.
Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia remain high. European Union-facilitated negotiations to normalize their relations started in March 2011 and have produced some 30 agreements, but most of them have not been observed.
Semini reported from Tirana, Albania