THE HAGUE: A UN war crimes court yesterday cleared Kosovo’s ex-prime minister Ramush Haradinaj of murder and torture during the 1990s war of independence, enraging Belgrade with the second such acquittal in two weeks.
The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) cleared the former military commander and two of his former guerrilla comrades after a case that lasted seven years.
“The chamber finds you not guilty on all counts in the indictment,” Judge Bakone Justice Moloto said, ordering the trio released immediately after their retrial.
The second trial had been held because of alleged witness intimidation in the first proceedings.
Fireworks exploded around Kosovo’s capital Pristina and the court’s public gallery erupted in cries of joy as the acquittals were announced.
Haradinaj, 44, and Idriz Balaj, 41, were being retried on six war crime charges at the tribunal for allegedly murdering and torturing Serbs and non-Albanians during the 1998-99 conflict, after initially being acquitted.
The third accused, Lahi Brahimaj, 42, faced four counts for his role in the fight between independence-seeking ethnic Albanian guerrillas in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the forces of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
Serbia angrily accused the tribunal in The Hague of bias against Serbs after the verdict, which came two weeks after it acquitted Croatian General Ante Gotovina of war crimes against Serbs.
“The tribunal, apparently created outside international law, was set up to try the Serbian people,” President Tomislav Nikolic said. “Nobody will be convicted for the terrible crimes against Kosovo Serbs.”
Nikolic warned that EU-sponsored talks between Pristina and Belgrade — which still regards Kosovo as part of Serbia after its unilateral declaration of independence in 2008 — could be jeopardised.
Balkans specialist Marianne Ducasse-Rogier from the Clingendael Institute in The Hague said the timing of the acquittals could be seen as “unfortunate”.
“It gives Serbia the impression that the ICTY is biased and has only condemned Serb people,”
“It is true that the ICTY has condemned more Serbs, but it maybe just because they committed more crimes.”
Bosnian Serb wartime political and army chiefs Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are still on trial at the ICTY, which has sentenced six top former Serbian military and police officials for war crimes during the Kosovo conflict.
But no high-ranking official from any other ethnic community has been sentenced for crimes against Serbs during the Balkans wars.
Several hundred people braved the rain to watch the verdict on a giant screen in a central square in Pristina, where Haradinaj is considered a hero by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority.
“Justice has won, Kosovo has won,” said Haradinaj supporter Jahja Lluka as tears of joy streamed down his face. AFP