By Neil MacDonald in Belgrade
Kosovo’s leading politician and ex-prime minister went on trial on Monday at the United Nations tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the 1998-1999 war for independence from Serbia.
Ramush Haradinaj and two other former guerrilla leaders under his command, also standing trial, are accused of organising the murder, rape, torture and intimidation of Serbs and other civilians seen as collaborators with the Serb-led regime in the mostly ethnic Albanian province.
Mr Haradinaj’s trial in The Hague opens at a tense time, during the final phase of UN-brokered negotiations between the pro-independence Kosovo Albanian provisional government and Belgrade, where nearly all political parties refuse to agree to independence for Kosovo.
Mr Haradinaj, who resigned as prime minister upon his indictment in March 2005, has been instrumental in keeping the province calm until he returned to The Hague last week to stand trial. While on provisional release, he continued to advise the UN administration and UN officials are now worried about how to keep Kosovo stable in his absence.
Prosecutors seeking his conviction say the Kosovo Liberation Army’s campaign in the Dukagjin area starting in March 1998 aimed to drive out the Serb population from local villages. A 78-day bombing campaign begun by Nato in March 1999 – spurred by Serb police and army atrocities against Kosovo Albanians – left the disputed province in the care of the UN pending an international decision about its future status.
The UN Security Council will next month consider the status plan prepared by Martti Ahtisaari, chief UN mediator, which would clear the way for Kosovo’s declaration of independence while allowing several Serb municipalities to preserve their ties to Serbia .
Impatience with repeated delays, combined with fears that the plan gives too much power back to the Serbs, triggered violence last month between ethnic Albanian demonstrators and UN police in the provisional capital, Pristina.
The UN administration has opened an inquiry into the deaths of two protestors after Romanian riot police seconded to the Kosovo government headquarters opened fire with rubber bullets. UN and other international vehicles have been bombed.