The World Today for April 13, 2023

NEED TO KNOW

Allies, Enemies and Other Horrors

KOSOVO

The former president of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, and other prominent politicians who were leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) are now on trial at a special court in the Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

As BalkanInsight explained, prosecutors say that Thaci and his colleagues failed to take action against underlings who murdered almost 100 people – ethnic Albanians, ethnic Serbs, and Roma – between March 1998 and September 1999 as the KLA’s guerrilla forces were winning their country’s independence from Serbia.

Many of the KLA’s alleged victims were either accused of treason, associating with Serbs or were simply political opponents of the KLA, Agence France-Presse reported. The KLA then allegedly detained, abused, tortured, and killed them.

In a recent hearing before the trial began on April 3, Thaci didn’t seem worried. “I expect to be acquitted,” Thaci said in court, according to Prishtina Insight, which covers Kosovo.

The war in Kosovo was among the last chapters of the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Around 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanian Kosovars, died in the conflict. Serbian leaders like Slobodan Milosevic have faced war crimes charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for their role in the conflict and other fighting that occurred when Yugoslavia split apart.

Problems with the Serbian minority that still lives in Kosovo continue to destabilize the region, too.

Defense lawyers said Thaci and his cohorts didn’t have absolute control over their fighters, so therefore they are innocent. They argued that the KLA was a volunteer organization, not a regular army, according to the Courthouse News Service.

The court will determine whether those assertions are valid. In the meantime, Thaci’s case is interesting because his defenders would describe him as a freedom fighter. The charges highlight how whether he is found innocent or guilty, his legacy will almost certainly be complicated, Voice of America added.

He was studying history and international relations in Zurich, Switzerland when Yugoslavia was breaking down, wrote Reuters. He then joined the KLA in 1997. Two years later, he was leading Kosovo’s delegation to peace talks in Rambouillet, France. He helped broker a deal but Serbia refused to sign it, prompting NATO to launch a bombing campaign to compel Serbia to let Kosovo go.

Serbian news site B92 noted that Thaci was an ally of the US and NATO. If he’s found guilty, NATO and the US also have blood on their hands, too.

The trial, say observers, effectively shows how in this conflict, no one is just a hero.

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