By Linda Karadaku and Ivana Jovanovic
Thursday’s (November 29th) not guilty verdict by the ITCY for former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj opens a door for the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander to regain his footing on the country’s political scene.
Kosovo media is speculating that Prime Minister Hashim Thaci will reshuffle his coalition government to bring in Haradinaj’s Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK).
“Haradinaj … with the consent of the people, will soon be resuming his rightful position as the political leader of the country, leading a government that represents all the citizens of Kosovo,” Ben Emmerson, Haradinaj’s lawyer, said.
Kosovo analyst Seb Bytyci of the Balkans Policy Institute said Haradinaj’s political revival could smooth relations in parliament.
“The government needs that because it does not have the majority in the parliament. The Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) would also try through that to neutralise the rivalry offered from the AAK with Haradinaj, who is more popular,” Bytyci told SETimes.
Hysni Fejza, executive director of the Kosovo Institute for Peace, told SETimes that Haradinaj’s release will cause substantial changes in Kosovo politics.
“This possible coalition is in Kosovo’s interest and especially at the interest of the PDK, which does not want to enter the dialogue with Serbia alone,” Fejza told SETimes.
Haradinaj, along with KLA commanders Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj, were accused of crimes, abductions, torture and cruel treatment in 1998 against 16 civilians in a compound of the KLA in the village of Jabllanica.
The Hague Tribunal acquitted the three all charges.
“The prosecution presented no direct evidence to prove that the established crimes were committed,” the tribunal said in a statement after the verdict.
The initial indictment against Haradinaj, Balaj and Brahimaj was issued in March 2005, and the three surrendered the same month. The trial commenced in March 2007 and the first not guilty verdict was announced in April 2008.
The Appeals Chamber ordered a retrial in July 2010 for all three on six counts of the indictment relating to the treatment of prisoners in the KLA-run camp in Jabllanica. The chamber found that the trial chamber failed to take sufficient steps to counter the witness intimidation that permeated the trial.
Magdalena Spalinska, spokesperson for the Hague Tribunal, said that a number of crimes against civilians were established to have been committed by KLA members. The crimes against 11 civilians have been confirmed to have happened.
“It is important that the national jurisdiction and the national judiciary continue to work to hold these and other perpetrators accountable for the crimes committed by the KLA,” Spalinska told SETimes.
For some Belgrade officials, however, the verdict represents a threat not only for Serbia, but also for the whole region.
“[Haradinaj’s] engagement in Kosovo government could have serious impacts in the whole region. I hope that international community is going to intervene here,” Velibor Stevic, president of the Security Committee of the Strength of Serbia Movement BK, a coalition partner of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, told SETimes.
Dragan Markovic Palma, the leader of United Serbia Party, said he expects to see Haradinaj, former Croatian General Ante Gotovina and former commander of Bosnian defence forces in Srebrenica Naser Orić as prime ministers.
“The international community is asking us to have good neighbourly relations in order to join the EU. How can we have good neighbourly relations when presidents will be war criminals and there is material evidence to prove it?” he said.
President Tomislav Nikolic said it is “obvious” that no one will be convicted of crimes against Kosovo Serbs.
“Such verdicts encourage separatism, hinder efforts to establish peace in the region, annul efforts to normalise relations between Belgrade and Pristina thus far and increase euro-scepticism among the Serbian people,” he said.
But Miljenko Dereta, the founder of the Civic Initiatives, Citizens’ Association for Democracy and Civic Education and Liberal Democratic Party MP, said he hopes the verdict does not prove to be a disruption.
“I truly hope that this is not going to have negative impacts on the negotiations process as well as on the position of Serbian people there,” Derete told SETimes. Citizens in Kosovo were jubilant over the verdict.
“We have been convinced on their innocence. This was a formality to show the world, especially the Serbs that a just war for freedom was done here. I feel very proud for that,” Pristina resident Hazir Krasniqi told SETimes.