By Petrit Collaku and Artan Mustafa
The deputy head of the EU rule-of-law mission, Andy Sparkes, told BIRN’s “Life in Kosovo” TV show on Thursday night that former transport minister Fatmir Limaj should waive his immunity from prosecution and face trial for war crimes.
“We have a warrant arrest for Mr Limaj. He has remained free only because of this ambiguity,” Sparkes said.
“We don’t know if we can arrest him while he is performing his duty as an MP… One way would have been for Limaj to resign. We asked him to do it, but he said ‘No’.”
The comments came as the US ambassador Christoper Dell said Kosovo was in danger of confronting “the whole world” over the issue of MPs immunity.
He accused the speaker of parliament, Jakup Krasniqi, of “protecting his friends” after Krasniqi recently rejected a EULEX request to pass a bill clarifying the lifting of immunity of MPs under investigation.
Last week, EULEX asked speaker Krasniqi to clarify the issue of the immunity from arrest of MPs under investigation.
Krasniqi said the request had no basis, as it was not parliament’s job to deal with the immunity issue.
Ambassador Dell told BIRN that as a result of the decision, Kosovo was in a danger of a confronting international opinion.
“If this resolution [on Mps’ immunity] is not passed, all the MPs are going to be asked to state publicly where they stand on investigating war crimes,” he said.
“The MPs should be careful not to place Kosovo in a confrontation with the whole world,” he added.
“We want the parliament to write a very simple resolution that would ask the government to forward the question to the Constitutional Court, explaining to what extent the members of parliament enjoy immunity from arrest,” he continued.
“If they do not do it, Kosovo will have a real crisis, a confrontation with the international community.
“We did not want to come to this point. We worked on it for four months now trying to solve it.
“The Prime Minister has said privately and publicly that he would be happy to forward a parliamentary question to the Constitutional Court.”
In an earlier comment to Voice of America, Dell said Krasniqi had refused the request to adopt a law on immunity in order to protect “one or two friends”. Krasniqi is known to be close to Limaj.
Krasniqi has defended his decision not to adopt the motion, saying it was up to the government of Hashim Thaci to seek an opinion on the issue first from the Constitutional Court.
Passing the buck back, Prime Minister Thaci responded that his office had not received any such request from EULEX, and he would not interfere in parliament’s work.
In theory, parliament can lift an MP’s immunity on the advice of the public prosecutor. In practice, it does not happen. No MP has had his her immunity lifted by a vote of parliament since Kosovo’s first elections in 2001.
The issue of MPs’ immunity has further divided two fractions of the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, to which both Krasniqi and Thaci belong, and which have disagreed repeatedly on a number of issues since the last general election.
The immunity of MPs has become a growing issue in Kosovo since EULEX in March failed to arrest former minister Limaj for suspected war crimes owing to his immunity.
Prosecutors from the EU law mission questioned Limaj in March but did not arrest him. Though immune from prosecution as a member of parliament, immunity does not prevent police from investigating allegations.
Limaj, who remains a popular figure in Kosovo, has already faced a war crimes trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY.
He was charged, along with Isak Musliu and Haradin Bala, with committing war crimes against Serbs and Albanians suspected of collaborating with Serbia during the Kosovo war.
In November 2005 the ICTY acquitted him and he returned home to a hero’s welcome, with street celebrations in the capital, Prishtina.
Limaj is not the only MP in the spotlight over immunity. Another MP, Azem Syla, also a member of the PDK, is another war crimes suspect.