US threatens Kosovo over “special court”

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The US and UK ambassadors warned Kosovo’s democratically elected parliament that any attempt to scrap the unpopular special court would be a “dangerous night” for the young state.

Any move by Kosovo to scrap the controversial war crimes court linked to its independence struggle would seriously undermine relations with “friendly” western nations, the United States said on Friday.

Lawmakers from the governing coalition, who hold a majority, are pressing for a vote to abolish the court, which the parliamentary speaker said was scheduled for later on Friday.

Opponents of the war crimes court have claimed that “the purpose and mandate of the Special Court is not about justice for victims; it is being created as an instrument to blackmail the local politicians,” explained political analyst Shpend Kursani.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on the 17 February 2008. Since then, the fledgling state has been recognised by 112 countries.

Earlier this month, the head of the Veterans’ Association of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Hysni Gucati launched a petition to have the 2015 law approving the special court reviewed.

The petition has gathered more than 15,000 signatures, Kosovo media has reported.

“We are against a biased court and we demand that the Kosovo parliament reviews this law once again,” said Gucati at a press conference.

Denying that the association was against the Special Court, Gucati, has instead argued that “the court ought not to try only KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) members but also Serbs who committed crimes in Kosovo,” he said.

Reactions on social media have been equally mixed. The Specialist Chamber was established in The Hague in 2015 to bring to justice Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas alleged to have committed atrocities during the 1998-99 war when Serbia began to ethnically cleanse ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. The KLA played a crucial role in the liberation of Kosovo from Serbia.

The Specialist Chamber has yet to hear any cases.

The country’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, President Hashim Thaci and parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli are former KLA commanders.

The court’s judges and prosecutors are foreign and based at the Netherlands and as a result has heightened suspicion that the court is “political”.

Calling for the parliamentary vote to be halted, US ambassador Greg Delawie said it would have “extraordinarily negative implications” for Kosovo.

“It is just a disgrace,” he told reporters in Pristina.

“This will be considered by the US as a stab in the back. Kosovo will be choosing isolation instead of cooperation.”

The court was set up following US and EU pressure on the government to confront the alleged KLA crimes against Serbs.

According to Kosovo media, the court could indict or call as witnesses some of current government officials.

NATO air strikes on Serbia forced Belgrade to withdraw its troops from Kosovo in 1999, having killed around 10,000 ethnic Albanian civilians. NATO has around 5,000 troops stationed in Kosovo to keep a still-fragile peace.

Kosovo, which is 90 percent Muslim and ethnic Albanian and 5 percent Serbian, is not recognised by Serbia, Russia or China.

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