Ex-Kosovo president Thaci set for first war crimes hearing

Ex-Kosovo president Thaci set for first war crimes hearing

THE HAGUE-Agence France-Presse
Ex-Kosovo president Thaci set for first war crimes hearing

Ex-Kosovo president Hashim Thaci is to appear on Nov. 9 before a war crimes court in The Hague to face charges stemming from the 1990s conflict between Kosovo and Serbia.    

Thaci, 52, resigned as president Thursday and flew to the Netherlands where he was placed in the detention center of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC), a Kosovo court located in The Hague.    

Judges, specialist prosecutor and staff are drawn from the international community.     

Thaci and three other defendants have been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, torture, illegal detention, enforced disappearances and persecution, committed between March 1998 and September 1999, the court said Friday in a statement.    

Thaci has pledged to cooperate with the tribunal, which has scheduled his first hearing for 3:00 pm (1400 GMT) on Nov. 9.    

He was political chief of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which fought Serb forces for the independence of the southern province in a conflict that claimed more than 13,000 lives.    

He claims the international system of justice is "rewriting history" and said on Nov. 5 he was stepping down as president to "protect the integrity" of the office.    

"I believe in truth, reconciliation and the future of our country and society," he added.    

The bitter conflict killed ethnic Albanian Kosovars for the most part, and only ended when a NATO air campaign forced Serb forces to withdraw from what was then one of the country's provinces.    

Top Serbian military and police officials were later convicted of war crimes in other international courts.    But rebel leaders of the KLA - many of whom have gone on to dominate politics in Kosovo - have also been accused of revenge attacks on Serbs, Roma and ethnic Albanian rivals during and after the war.            

On Nov. 9, a judge will first ensure "that the rights of the accused, including the right to legal representation, are respected, and that the accused understands the charges," the court statement said.    

The KSC is a temporary court tasked with trying suspects linked to crimes allegedly committed by the KLA.    

Before serving as president, Thaci was also prime minister of Kosovo, but he had pledged to step down and face charges if they were confirmed in a formal indictment.    

His three co-defendants are former KLA spokesman Jakup Krasniqi, Thaci's closest political ally Kadri Veseli, and key KLA figure Rexhep Selimi.    

In June, KSC prosecutors accused Thaci and others of being "criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders" in addition to other crimes.    

Thaci has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence in a war that most Kosovars consider a just liberation struggle against Serbian oppression.