The U.S. has given its full backing to an international war crimes court in the Hague that recently indicted Kosovo’s former president, Hasim Thaci, and four other ex-Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commanders that fought against Serbia from 1998 to 1999.
The State Department said that the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office “have the full confidence of the U.S. government” a day after an association of former KLA fighters living in the U.S. wrote to President Joe Biden asking him to withdraw his support.
Gani Shehu - a former member of the Atlantic Battalion, diaspora Kosovo Albanians that returned to Kosovo in 1999 to fight the Serbian invasion - wrote to Biden on 24 March, calling for the KSC/SPO to be uprooted from its current home in the Hague and moved to Kosovo.
He claimed that the court, which indicted Thaci and four other senior commanders for war crimes in November 2020, is being used by European nations to undermine Kosovo’s relationship with the U.S. He also reminded Biden that he once referred to Thaci as “Kosovo’s George Washington” and argued that he should not be facing trial in the Hague.
Thaci was a senior commander of the KLA and president of Kosovo until he resigned in November 2020. He is accused of crimes against humanity and responsibility for at least 100 murders of Serbs, Roma and Albanians believed to be collaborators. He denies the charges.
“Today Thaci languishes in a detention cell at the Hague along with four other Albanians who risked their lives fighting against Yugoslav tyranny and the occupation of Kosovo,” Shehu wrote.
“It would be impossible to fathom someone daring to indict or even detain George Washington for fighting for the freedom and independence of the U.S.”
Complete, unambiguous support
Neither the White House nor the State Department would comment to Euronews on Biden’s comments about Thaci and whether he maintains his views on the former president today. But it ruled out any action against the court and urged Kosovo to support it and its work.
“We continue to believe Kosovo's institutions should provide full, complete, and unambiguous support to the Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office,” a State Department spokesperson told Euronews.
“This is essential to the rule of law, justice, and accountability in Kosovo, as well as the country's further integration in the Euro-Atlantic family and international community.”
Despite being set up by an act of Kosovo’s parliament in 2015, the KSC is unpopular in Kosovo, where the KLA is viewed as a liberating force that saved Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority from a campaign of brutal ethnic cleansing by Milosevic’s forces.
Many Kosovars resent that the court is based in the Hague, not Pristina, and employs an entirely non-Kosovar staff.
Those critics include the country’s new prime minister, Albin Kurti, who told Euronews that allegations against the KLA should be handled by Kosovo’s courts. He also said that the charges against Thaci, one of his biggest political rivals, were “not believable”.
“The KLA did not have a plan, or a programme, against Serbs. We were fighting a liberation war against Serbia as a state,” he said.
The Atlantic Association, which wrote the letter to Biden and represents 400 U.S.-based veterans of the conflict, did not respond to a request for comment.