Kosovo's former president Hashim Thaci was on Monday set to make his first appearance before a judge at a special court in the Netherlands facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
A guerrilla leader during Kosovo's war for independence from Serbia in the 1990s, Thaci, 52, resigned from office on Thursday.
“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,” Thaci said at a press conference in Pristina.
He said he wanted to protect his country against what he called attempts to rewrite history. "Kosovo has been the victim. Serbia has been the aggressor,” he said.
An international prosecutor has indicted Thaci and other former guerilla leaders on 10 charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes for his leadership of fighters with the Kosovo Liberation Army who are accused of illegally imprisoning, abusing and murdering captured opponents and perceived traitors during the war.
Thaci denies any wrongdoing.
The former president 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.
Back in Kosovo officials of the Special Prosecutor's Office raided his house near the capital Pristina and those of the other people indicted.
At the court appearance Monday, a pre-trial judge will make sure Thaci's rights are respected and that he understands the charges, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers court said in a statement.
Most of the people who died in the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo were ethnic Albanians, with 1,641 people are still unaccounted for. A 78-day NATO air campaign against Serbian troops ended the fighting.
The formation of the Hague court and prosecutor’s office followed a 2011 report by the Council of Europe, a human rights body.
In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia, a move that Serbia refuses to recognise.
Ties between Kosovo and Serbia remain tense, despite nine years of negotiations mediated by the European Union and supported by the United States.
The indictment was announced in June when Thaci was en route to a meeting at the White House with Serb counterpart Aleksandar Vucic. That meeting was held with Kosovo’s prime minister instead in September.
The European Union mission in Kosovo and member states’ representatives welcomed Thaci’s resignation and the cooperation that he and the other indicted leaders showed with the court.
“We have strongly supported the establishment of the Specialist Chambers, an integral part of Kosovo’s Rule of Law system, and will continue to do so until the Chambers’ mission, which Kosovo has also committed to, is fulfilled," the mission said in a statement.
“This is essential for the consolidation of Kosovo’s European perspective.”