By Edona Peci
Former PM and former KLA leader Ramush Haradinaj returned to Kosovo as a free man to a rapturous welcome following his acquittal by the Hague Tribunal on Thursday.
Kosovo’s PM Hashim Thaci and other government officials, as well as Haradinaj’s family and members of his party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, were at the International Airport in Pristina to welcome his return.
Hundreds of well-wishers started celebrating at the airport hours before his arrival.
Speaking at a press conference held at the airport Haradinaj said that he is happy that “international justice confirmed that our path to freedom was clean and just.”
“I guarantee I will be working with all of you so we can develop our country, to overcome challenges and achieve victories together,” he added.
Thaci welcomed Hardinaj’s return wishing him a “successful comeback” to Kosovo’s politics.
Earlier this morning, Haradinaj’s family, gathered in his house in Gllogjan, celebrated the not-guilty verdict with tears of joy.
Hardinaj’s father, Hilmi, welcomed the ruling as a “great victory for all Albanians wherever they are”.
Haradinaj’s wife, Anita, who watched the live transmission with her children at the couple’s home in Pristina, told Kosovo’s public broadcaster, RTK, that her husband’s innocence had been vindicated.
“The Hague Tribunal has confirmed Ramush’s innocence. This indictment was a political one, nothing more,” she said.
The Hague Tribunal has acquitted Haradinaj, Balaj and Brahimaj of all charges of committing war crimes during the Kosovo conflict of the late 1990s.
The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, the opposition party that Haradinaj will continue to lead following his release, said his return meant “great changes to Kosovo’s political scene”.
Blerim Shala, one of the party’s deputy heads, said Haradinaj wanted to resume his involvement in politics.
“We’ll see what concrete form these changes will take… Together, we’ll analyse all the options,” he said, not ruling out the possibility of the AAK entering a coalition with the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK.
“We think the best possible option is for Haradinaj to be at the front of the government,” he added.
Haradinaj’s lawyer, Ben Emmerson, said that the former Prime Minister, “with the consent of the people, will soon be resuming his rightful position as the political leader of the country.
“He has asked me to say that as leader of free Kosova he will tackle corruption wherever it is found, and he will deal with it firmly. He will guarantee the rights of all minorities, and he will ensure the full political participation for the Serbs of Kosova,” Emmerson added.
Haradinaj, the most senior ethnic Albanian indicted by the ICTY, served as Prime Minister for 100 days before stepping down in March 2005 to deal with his first ICTY trial. After being found not guilty in 2008, a retrial was ordered in 2010.
The government of Kosovo, under Hashim Thaci, welcomed the acquittals. In a press release, Prime Minister Thaci described the verdict as just.
“This verdict is the most powerful proof that the Kosovo Liberation Army fought a just war for freedom and did not carry out the crimes for which it has been unfairly accused.”
“This has been proven by the Hague Tribunal today and it will be proven again in the case of Fatmir Limaj and his comrades,” the press release reads.
President Atifete Jahjaga said she was happy that “Mr Haradinaj is returning to his family and to Kosovo to continue contributing, consolidating and further strengthening the democratic processes that our country is going through.”
“The ICTY decision… is proof that our war was just and that those who led our freedom fight are not guilty of the crimes they were accused of,” she added.
The release of Haradinaj and two other former KLA commanders, following the recent acquittal of two Croatian generals for war crimes committed during Croatia’s Operation “Oluja” [“Storm”], has angered Serbia.
President Tomislav Nikolic said that the verdicts showed that the Hague Tribunal was set up to put the Serbian people in trial.
“The latest decision by the Tribunal is not based on law and justice, the fundamental postulates that any international court should be based on. The Tribunal, obviously founded outside the international law, was formed to try the Serbian people,” Nikolic said.