An international prosecutor on Wednesday indicted Kosovo’s president and nine other former separatist fighters on war crimes charges for their actions during and after Kosovo’s 1998-1999 independence war with Serbia.
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci postponed his trip to Washington, D.C., where he was expected to meet Saturday for talks at the White House with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic — the first talks between the two sides in 19 months.
“The President of Kosovo has just informed us that he has canceled his trip to Washington, D.C. following the announcement made by the Special Prosecutors Office. I respect his decision not to attend the discussions until the legal issues of those allegations are settled,” tweeted Richard Grenell, the U.S. envoy for the Kosovo talks.
The prosecutor of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers said Thaci and the nine others “are criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders” involving hundreds of Serb and Roma victims, as well as Kosovo Albanian political opponents.
A pretrial judge at The Hague-based court is currently studying the indictment. If there is enough evidence to support the charges, the pretrial judge will confirm them.
Thaci was a commander of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) that fought for independence from Serbia in a war that left more than 10,000 dead — most of them ethnic Albanians. It ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign against Serbian troops.
The former ethnic Albanian-dominated province declared independence from Serbia in 2008, which Serbia did not recognize.
The indicted group includes Kadri Veseli, former parliament speaker and leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo. Veseli said the indictment is politically motivated, given the announcement coming only days before the White House meeting.
Several top Serbian officials and military officers have been sentenced to prison by a different war crimes court in The Hague for crimes committed by Serbian troops during the war.
“The court is trying to stain our liberating war, our aspiration for freedom and independence and legalize the (Serb) crimes in Kosovo,” Bardhyl Mahmuti, a former KLA political representative, told public television station, RTK.
The prosecutor filed the indictment following a lengthy investigation and it reflects his “determination that it can prove all of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” the statement said. The prosecutor also accused Thaci and Veseli of repeated efforts “to obstruct and undermine the work” of the tribunal.
Kosovo politicians resisted and resented the scrutiny of the war crimes court, repeatedly noting that Serb troops committed massacres and other atrocities during the war that went unpunished.
Tensions between the two countries remain high. European Union-facilitated negotiations to normalize their relations started in March 2011 and has produced some 30 agreements, most of which were not observed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.