Disputes Grow Around Kosovar Prime Minister

BELGRADE – How did Slobodan Radosevic die after being abducted from his home five years ago? For the Radosevic family this is a question about closure of grief. For Serbian prosecutors it is one of 108 charges against now Kosovan Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj. For all of Serbia and Kosovo, it could be a matter of their political future.

Haradinaj (36), an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, has been charged by Serb authorities with crimes against humanity and armed rebellion in the southern Serbian province Kosovo in 1998-99.

Haradinaj was then a commander with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an armed group that rebelled against Serb security forces and direct rule from Belgrade. Serb authorities called KLA members “terrorists”. For Kosovo Albanians they were, and remain national heroes, regardless of what they might have done.

The KLA did not just attack Serbs, but also ethnic Albanians and others seen as Serb collaborators. More than 1,200 are still missing since 1999.

Earlier this month the controversial Haradinaj became prime minister of Kosovo, which is still a part of Serbia but under United Nations control. His Alliance for the Future of Kosovo party ranked third in the elections but formed a coalition with the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo to run the government.

Haradinaj now faces his own declarations besides evidence from the families of victims of KLA violence.

In a book he wrote called ‘Stories of War and Freedom’, Haradinaj said “we (KLA) constantly attacked Serb forces. At any place. During the day and during the night. Without hiding. Each and every day we killed Serb policemen…”

In his acceptance speech to parliament he said: “I am proud of the part that I played in protecting my people. I am ready to defend my record against criticism and innuendo.”

UN administrator Soren Jessen Petersen declared he was “impressed with Haradinaj” and his commitment to the democratic future of Kosovo. “The next 12 months will be crucial in determining the future of Kosovo,” he said. “The work of the parliament, the government will determine whether Kosovo succeeds or fails.”

Albanians were victims of Serb repression for years, but their ordeal ended after11 weeks of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) bombing of Serbia and withdrawal of Serb security forces from Kosovo in 1999. The UN was given the mandate to run the province and introduce democracy.

The future of the province will be discussed by the end of next year. Serb and Kosovan governments and representatives of the international community will be involved in the negotiations. Kosovo has a population of about two million ethnic Albanians and some 90,000 Serbs.

But the controversy around Haradinaj could endanger and complicate any talks.

After an emergency meeting last week, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica described Haradinaj’s election as “a political provocation”. He called on the UN to annul the election of Haradinaj, which the UN administration has the power to do.

“A man who carries a heavy burden of crimes committed both in war and peace was elected the head of government,” Kostunica said. “That could have a decisive influence on the situation in Kosovo and the whole region.”

Serbian authorities are firm in their stand against Haradinaj, particularly after it was revealed that the UN-founded International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) investigators talked to him last month. The details of the talks were not disclosed.

The ICTY has made no statement about Haradinaj. But diplomatic sources in Belgrade told IPS that an indictment against Haradinaj could be ready in the near future. The ICTY has already indicted three ethnic Albanians for war crimes in Kosovo.

Last week NATO delivered a stern warning to Haradinaj and his supporters against any violent reaction if he is indicted for war crimes.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said any misbehaviour would not be tolerated if the ICTY charged Haradinaj with crimes against Serb and other civilians. NATO has some 20,000 troops in Kosovo.

In an outbreak of ethnic Albanian violence against Serbs in March this year, 19 people died and hundreds of Serb homes were burnt down. Haradinaj was blamed for organising the clashes, as NATO peacekeepers were caught off guard.

“Let us hope nothing similar happens if Haradinaj gets indicted,” former Serbian justice minister Vladan Batic said at a recent press conference. “The province should not once again become a tinderbox of the Balkans after the sour experience in the past.”

Read more by Vesna Peric Zimonjic