By Milica Stojanovic
Amid a relatively muted reaction in Serbia to the news that former Kosovo Liberation Army political leader Hashim Thaci stepped down as president before being flown to The Hague to face war crimes charges, war victims’ groups expressed hope that justice could finally be done.
Natasa Scepanovic, president of the Association of Kosmet Victims, said that “although so far there has been no justice for our victims due to various interests and avoidance of responsibility, in the depths of our souls we believe that justice is slow but achievable”.
“A lot of time has passed and we believe that valid evidence and adequate witnesses have been collected that will contribute to justice,” Scepanovic told BIRN.
“We will not give up or calm down until those responsible for serious human rights violations in all forms are punished in any way, and among them are unequivocally members of the KLA,” she added.
Thaci was indicted at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague alongside three other former KLA leaders turned politicians for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Ivana Zanic, from the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre NGO said that the indictment “should be an incentive not only for Kosovo, but also for Serbia, to continue prosecuting those responsible for war crimes”.
“Both sides must do whatever it takes to charge those who killed, looted, set fire to houses and expelled civilians. It cannot be the responsibility of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers of Kosovo alone, nor can the indictment of Hashim Thaci alone lead to justice,” Zanic told BIRN.
She said the Specialist Chambers should also “prosecute those responsible in Kosovo who are responsible for the killings and disappearances of Roma, Serbs, Albanians and others” during the 1998-99 conflict.
The indictment of Thaci and fellow former KLA leader turned politician Kadri Veseli was front-page news in Serbian newspapers. Most commented that they will “finally” be prosecuted, with some describing them as “terrorists” and “villains”.
But the only senior Serbian official to comment was president of parliament and former Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, who said that “we should not rejoice now” and that the court should be left to do its job.
“This is not the time for us to celebrate that someone arrested Thaci and someone else, we can only welcome the fact that the court has finally begun to actively work on the implementation of its task, which is to judge crimes against Serbs by the Kosovo Liberation Army,” Dacic told Kopernikus Television on Thursday.
The Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague published a redacted version of the indictment on Thursday. Among other offences, crimes are listed against the Serb population in Orahovac/Rehovec in 1998 and 1999, murders and torture in Pristina, Gnjilane/Gjilan, Novo Brdo/Novoberde, Malisevo/Malisheve and detentions in Jablanica/Jabllanice, Lapusnik/Llapushnik, Drenovac/Drenoc, Prizren and elsewhere.
Zanic said that publishing a redacted version made it harder to analyse it.
“It is true that the indictment covers crimes committed against Serbs – perhaps the most famous example is the [detention] camps in Lapusnik and Likovac. When the trial starts, we will have much more information,” she said.