Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, accused of war crimes, cancels White House meeting

PRISTINA – A special prosecutor’s office that dealt with the Kosovo uprising in 1998-99 against the Serbian government said on Wednesday that it had charged Kosovo President Hashim Thaci with alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, including nearly 100 murders.

The Chamber of Specialists was established in The Hague in 2015 to handle cases of alleged crimes committed by Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas during the war that led to Kosovo’s independence from Serbia a decade later.

There was no immediate reaction from Thaci. But his office later said Wednesday that he had canceled a trip to the White House in Washington for a planned first round of U.S.-mediated talks with Serbia on normalizing relations, among the conditions the European Union has set for either country joins the block.

The indictment is “the result of a lengthy investigation and reflects the determination of the SPO (Office of the Special Prosecutor) that it can prove all charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” the SPO said in a statement.

He said “others” had also been charged, including Kadri Veseli, the former president of the Kosovo parliament. Thaci and Veseli, both former top commanders in the KLA, have previously denied involvement in war crimes during the conflict in the late 1990s. The SPO did not provide details of the alleged war crimes.

He also said that Thaci and Veseli were believed to have “carried out a secret campaign to revoke the law that created the Court and otherwise obstruct the Court’s work in an attempt to ensure that they do not face justice.”

The Chamber of Specialists is governed by Kosovo law, but is composed of international judges and prosecutors.

The accusations of war crimes against the KLA first emerged in a 2011 report by the Council of Europe’s rights agency that accused the guerrillas of killing Serbian civilians and ethnic Albanian political opponents during the 1998-99 conflict.

Local efforts to investigate suspected KLA war crimes have so far been thwarted by widespread intimidation in the small state where clan loyalties run deep and former rebels are praised.

The special prosecutor’s office is based in the Netherlands, in part to help ensure the protection of witnesses.