Kosovo's President Hashim Thaçi, a guerrilla leader during Kosovo's war for independence from Serbia in the 1990s, resigned on Thursday in order to face charges for war crimes and crimes against humanity at a special court based in The Hague.
The court was established in 2015 to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a guerrilla formation Thaçi was a part of, during the conflict in Kosovo in 1998-1999.
Watch reaction to this arrest from Valerie Hopkins, the FT's south-east Europe correspondent, in the video player, above.
“I will cooperate closely with justice. I believe in truth, reconciliation and the future of our country and society. Therefore today, more than ever, I call upon you to not lose hope, patience and faith,” Thaçi said at a press conference in Prishtina.
He denies any wrongdoing.
Thaçi on Thursday left Kosovo for the Hague aboard a military cargo plane that took off from a NATO airport outside the capital Pristina.
The two other people who are believed to have been charged for similar crimes and were also on the same aircraft.
They are the former speaker of the Kosovo parliament and head of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, Kadri Veseli, and a member of the Vetëvendosje opposition party, Rexhep Selimi. The two men are also former members of the KLA.
Ever since the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, NATO peacekeepers have acted as the de-facto army in the country and usually undertake sensitive missions like the transfer of Thaçi and others to the Hague detention centre.
The indictment was announced to the public in June on the eve of a planned meeting in Washington DC with US President Donald Trump. The meeting was expected to deal with unresolved issues between Kosovo and Serbia arising from the conflict following the breakup of socialist Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Thaçi’s close collaborators and other high-ranking members of the KLA were arrested or surrendered to the court in the lead up to the president’s announcement.
According to the announcement in June, they are all part of an indictment that features 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the kidnapping, torture and murder of civilians.
“We are freedom-loving and not a vengeful nation. Therefore no decision will change our history. Kosovo was a victim, Serbia was the aggressor. This new situation is a new opportunity for Kosovo, we have to turn it into an advantage for the present and future of Kosovo,” Thaçi stated during the press conference on Thursday.
Albanian prime minister Edi Rama reacted to Thaçi’s resignation on Twitter, saying that “Hashim Thaçi has the full support and solidarity of Albania in this upcoming battle for Kosovo and for the inviolable righteousness of the liberation struggle.”
“This absurd process against him will seal the purity of the KLA once and for all and make it impossible for history to be rewritten,” Rama concluded.
Former Kosovo PM Ramush Haradinaj, who was charged with war crimes twice in the past, called for an extraordinary government meeting and “immediate interruption of all activities tied to the dialogue process with Serbia.”
Kosovo assembly chairwoman Vjosa Osmani will be interim president.
A spokesman for the prosecutor in The Hague told The Associated Press that he had no comment on Thaci’s announcement.