news 20 Nov 12

Gotovina Verdict Makes Kosovo Hopeful Over Haradinaj

As the release of two Croatian generals has raised hope in Kosovo of not guilty verdict for Ramush Haradinaj, a Serbian official fears Haradinaj's acquittal would impede Belgrade-Pristina talks.

Edona Peci and Bojana Barlovac
Pristina, Belgrade

Hajredin Kuci, Kosovo's Deputy PM, has expressed confidence that the verdict in Ramush Haradinaj’s case will lead to his release.

“The release of Mr. Haradinaj in the fist case was  the right decision and I believe the second trial will confirm that decision,” Kuci told BIRN.

The Hague Tribunal, ICTY, is due to pass the verdict in the case known as Haradinaj et al, on November 29.

Haradinaj, former Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, leader, and his fellow KLA commander, Idriz Balaj, were acquitted of all war crimes charges following a three-year trial at the ICTY. The third defendant, Lah Brahimaj, was sentenced to six years for cruel treatment and torture.

A partial retrial for the trio had started on July 2010 after the prosecution convinced an appeals judge that it had not been given sufficient time to hear the evidence from two key witnesses.

Haradinaj, Balaj and Brahimaj are charged with being a part of a joint criminal enterprise and with crimes against Kosovo Albanians, Serbs and Roma in the Jablanica detention camp.

Although not being actively involved in politics since 2010, Haradinaj, who briefly served as prime minister of Kosovo, is still the leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK.

For Ahmet Isufi, one of the party’s deputy leaders, the Hague Tribunal’s acquittal of the two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, bodes well for Haradinaj’s case.

“This is good news, because it was based on the right of liberation of people attacked by Serbia. This raises hope that Mr. Haradinaj will be back in Kosovo,” Isufi said.

Last Friday, the Appeal Chamber of the Hague Tribunal has quashed the first-instance verdict passed in April, 2011, under which Gotovina and Markac were jailed for 24 and 18 years for involvement in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at the forcible removal of Serbs from the Krajina region in Croatia.

The court ruled that they were not guilty of killings, deportation and inhumane treatments of Serb civilians during the Croatian military operation codenamed "Oluja" ["Storm"] in the summer of 1995.

Xhavit Haliti, one of KLA’s former political leaders and a deputy in the Assembly of Kosovo, said no prejudice should be made in any case until the court’s decision is made.

“Verdicts are given based on existing facts and arguments. I think there are no arguments to sentence Mr. Haradinaj,” Haliti told BIRN.

However, Aleksandar Vulin, the head of the Serbian government Office for Kosovo, fears that Haradinaj’s acquittal would impede talks between Pristian and Belgrade.

"The ICTY acquittal for Ramus Haradinaj would send a message that it is permissible to kill Serbs in Kosovo. How can we talk about the fate of missing persons, justice for those killed and return of those exiled, if a man who talk part in all this is set free," Vulin told the Serbian daily newspaper Vecernje Novosti.

EU-mediated talks between Pristian and Belgrade started in Belgium in March 2011,  three years after Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008.

Serbia has vowed never to recognise Kosovo as a state, but says it is open to deals that improve daily lives on both sides of the [from Serbia's point of view unrecognised] border.

So far, the two sides have reached deals on freedom of movement, university diplomas, regional representation and on trade. But not all the deals have been implemented.

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