Kosovo president visits prosecutors who indicted him

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Kosovo’s president Hashim Thaci speaks to the media as he arrives at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, Monday July 13, 2020. Kosovo’s president visited prosecutors at The Hague who have charged him with criminal responsibility for crimes including nearly 100 murders during and after his nation’s battle for independence from Serbia, saying his visit was “the price for freedom” for his country. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Kosovo’s president visited prosecutors at The Hague on Monday who have charged him with criminal responsibility for crimes including nearly 100 murders during and after his nation’s battle for independence from Serbia, saying his visit was “the price for freedom” for his country.

Hashim Thaci was greeted by a small group of chanting supporters when he arrived at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers. About 30 men held up signs and chanted his name as he entered the building. Thaci smiled and waved at them.

“Today I’m here to respect what I dreamed and fought for. A free and independent Kosovo based on individual rights, multi-ethnic society and rule of law,” Thaci told reporters outside the Kosovo Specialist Chambers headquarters. “I am ready to face the new challenge and succeed for my son, my family my people and my country.”

In a television interview aired Sunday, Hashim Thaci said he was going to The Hague to prove to prosecutors investigating alleged war crimes linked to the 1998-1999 armed conflict in Kosovo between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serbia that he had broken no international laws.

“Nobody can rewrite history,” he said Monday. “This is the price for freedom. I believe in peace, truth, reconciliation and justice. I believe in dialogue and good relations with all nations.”

Thaci spoke to reporters, but didn’t take any questions, before walking into the court to discuss with prosecutors the indictment they filed against him in April. A pre-trial judge is studying the indictment and hasn’t yet decided whether to confirm or reject the charges.

The indictment charges Thaci, Kosovo’s former parliamentary speaker, Kadri Veseli, and other suspects with crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, enforced disappearances, persecution, and torture.

Thaci was a commander of the so-called Kosovo Liberation army, or KLA, that fought for independence from Serbia. The war left more than 10,000 dead — most of them ethnic Albanians — and 1,641 are still unaccounted for. It ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign against Serbian troops.

Hi supporters chanted the letters “UCK,” the Albanian acronym for the KLA.

Among placards held by his supporters was one that read: “Hashim is not simply a name — it is a symbol of an honorable epoch.”

The former ethnic Albanian-dominated province declared independence from Serbia in 2008, which Belgrade doesn’t recognize.

Announcing the existence of the indictment on June 24, the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office accused Thaci and Veseli of repeatedly trying to “obstruct and undermine” the court.

The men “are believed to have carried out a secret campaign to overturn the law creating the Court and otherwise obstruct the work of the Court in an attempt to ensure that they do not face justice,” a prosecution statement said.

Thaci’s visit to The Hague came a day after the European Union praised leaders of Serbia and Kosovo for getting long-stalled talks on normalizing their tense relations back on track and for setting up a face-to-face meeting in Brussels later this week.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti held video talks mediated by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, aimed at resuscitating the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue process, which has been frozen since November 2018.

“We agreed on the main elements of the process. We also agreed on the agenda of our next meeting that will take place this coming Thursday, in Brussels, in person. I want to thank our partners for their constructive engagement today,” said EU special envoy Miroslav Lajcak, who also took part in the meeting.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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