Kosovo's president says he will resign if war crimes indictment is confirmed

By JAN BRATANIC AND GORDANA FILIPOVIC | Bloomberg | Published: June 29, 2020

Kosovo's president rejected international prosecutors' accusations that he engaged in war crimes in the conflict with Serbia more than 20 years ago, but said he'd step down if the charges are confirmed.

The 10-count indictment against President Hashim Thaci from the Specialist Prosecutor's Office in The Hague has cast a shadow on a political standoff with Serbia.

The two sides have been locked in a dispute over Kosovo's sovereignty since it unilaterally declared independence in 2008, a decade after they fought the last of the wars that broke up the former Yugoslavia.

Thaci dismissed the allegations that say he and other separatist fighters engaged in the "enforced disappearance of persons, persecution and torture" and nearly 100 murders. But he signaled that if a pretrial judge reviewing the indictment confirms the charges, he'll step down.

"In the coming days, I will consult with political leaders about the next steps," Thaci said Monday in a televised speech. "I will not face justice from this office. If the indictment is confirmed, I will resign immediately."

The indictment has complicated talks between Kosovo and Serbia, with Thaci hearing about it when he was on board a flight to meet his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic, at the White House in Washington D.C. last week.

The planned meeting, which was canceled, was aimed at discussions on economic cooperation under the auspices of President Donald Trump's special envoy, Richard Grenell.

Negotiating a final peace agreement that would end decades of hostilities remains the key condition for both nations to accelerate their accession to the European Union.

The court in The Hague, which is investigating crimes against ethnic Serbs, Roma, other minorities and political dissidents during and after the 1998-99 war, said it decided to issue the notice because of repeated efforts by Thaci and others to obstruct and undermine its work.

Thaci, who was a leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army in the conflict against Serb troops loyal to the government of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic, said he was innocent.

"I may have made political mistakes in peace, but never war crimes," he said. "Even if I were to go back to the dark ages of Milosevic, I would do the same thing, by answering the bullet of the enemy with the bullet of the thirst for freedom and by not wronging any Serbian, Roma, or Albanian citizen."