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Ex-Kosovo PM acquitted of war crimes, Belgrade thunders

Ex-Kosovo PM acquitted of war crimes, Belgrade thunders
The Hague tribunal has cleared former Kosovo’s PM Ramush Haradinaj of war crimes during the military conflict in Serbia in late 1990s. Serbian president says court’s decision annuls efforts to normalize ties between Belgrade and Pristina.

­The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in Hague has ruled that Kosovo ex-PM Ramush Haradinaj, also a former commander of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), and two of his subordinates are not guilty of any crimes during the 1998-1999 war.

The three men were accused of torture and killing of ethnic Serbs, Roma and those Albanians who collaborated with Serbs while KLA was establishing control of the western Kosovo.

In 2008 Haradinaj together with co-defendants Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj were already acquitted but later the court had admitted that witnesses were intimidated and reversed the acquittal. Four years later, in an unprecedented for the Hague tribunal re-trial, the Albanians have been acquitted for the second time.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic denounced the verdict, saying it “fuels separatism, delivers a blow to efforts at establishing peace in the region, annul efforts so far in normalizing ties between Belgrade and Pristina and fuels euro-skepticism among the Serbian people.”

Haradinaj’s acquittal only added to a list of cases, in which the ICTY refused to sentence militants accused of war crimes against Serbs during the war that followed disintegration of former Yugoslavia in 1990s. Just recently, on 16 November 2012, the ICTY acquitted Croatian General-Leutenant Ante Gotovina of war crimes against Serbs, though in April 2011, he was found guilty on eight of the nine counts of the indictment and sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Ex-Kosovo PM’s acquittal was anticipated by Serbian officials and media after Gotovina was freed. The judgment enraged the Serbian community both in Belgrade and in Kosovo.

“The Hague is laughing in Serbia’s face with this acquittal,” Belgrade political analyst Aleksandar Pavic told RT.

Pavic went on to dub The Hague tribunal as anti-Serb, an opinion which is very popular in the country.

“The Hague tribunal was set up in 1993 when the US was the only country that really mattered at the time. And this tribunal was specifically designed pretty much a tribunal for the Serbs, to make sure the Serbs are declared a guilty party in all the wars in the early 1990s [which] were in fact caused by the West intervention – military and diplomatic,” Pavic argued.

Ramush Haradinaj served as Kosovo Prime Minister for only 100 days in 2005 before he had to quit because of his first trial in Hague.

Haradinaj, the founder of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo party, has a lot of supporters among Kosovo Albanians. They celebrated his acquittal with large banners in the capital Pristina, having watched the verdict live on a giant screen.

Ramush Haradinaj's lawyer Ben Emmerson told journalists his client plans to come back to politics.

"With the consent of the people, he will soon be resuming his rightful position as the political leader of the country," Emmerson told the media at the court in Hague.