news 09 Jun 17

Wartime Leaders Play Key Role in Kosovo Election

Former guerrilla leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army are playing major roles in the current election campaign in the country, despite the looming possibility of prosecutions by a new war crimes court.

Die Morina
BIRN
Pristina
Coalition leaders and ex-KLA figures Kadri Veseli, Ramush Haradinaj and Fatmir Limaj.

The political coalition tipped to come out on top in Sunday’s parliamentary election is helmed by three former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, meaning that ex-KLA fighters are likely to maintain a hold on the country’s politics in the future, analysts said.

The coalition is made up of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, led by Kadri Veseli, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, led by Ramush Haradinaj himself and the Initiative for Kosovo, NISMA, led by Fatmir Limaj - all major wartime figures.

“The main figures of the KLA have now been in politics for years and have almost become election campaign professionals,” Nezir Kraki, a Kosovo Albanian professor of political sciences at the University of Paris-Est, told BIRN.

Veseli, Hardinaj and Limaj’s alliance is running as a united force for the first time in an election.

Kraki said however that wartime figures are also present in other parties and coalitions.

“War figures have remained the most secure connection to the political continuity that they have created in peacetime - some contributing directly, some unable to run and giving indirect input to the campaign and the electoral process by agitating and lobbying for the ‘war wing’,” Pristina-based political analyst Behlul Beqaj told BIRN.

Beqaj also noted that “some ex-figures who after the war achieved their pre-war goals have also been transformed into party sponsors”.

However, Kraki stressed that when wartime issues were raised during the campaign, it was only for electoral consumption.

“Nowadays war rhetoric is common, especially in the Balkans, and in neighbouring states as well as in Kosovo, they bring up symbols and things that are supposed to inspire national sentiments,” he said.

During the campaign however, candidates have not commented much on the new Hague-based Special Court that is soon to start filing indictments against KLA ex-fighters for crimes committed during and just after the war.

Rumours have suggested that some leading Kosovo politicians could be indicted.

Limaj said during the campaign that the Kosovo parliament had been wrong to vote in favour of the court, which it did after many delays, heated debates and protests, as well as strong pressure from the EU and US.

“The Special Court will only cause difficulties in building and promoting Kosovo. Parliament acted wrongly when it voted for this court,” Fatmir Limaj told Klan Kosova TV.

Limaj has been tried and found not guilty of war crimes several times in the past.

In May this year, the Kosovo’s Supreme Court acquitted him of war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war at an improvised jail in Klecka during the late 1990s conflict.

After a previous trial at the UN-backed tribunal in The Hague, Limaj was also acquitted in 2005 of war crimes against Serbs and Albanians suspected of collaborating with Serbia.

In January this year, he went on trial again, pleading not guilty to accusations that he was responsible for the murder of two Kosovo Albanian civilians in October 1998.

His coalition partner Haradinaj, who the alliance wants to become prime minister if it wins the election, has twice been acquitted by the Hague-based court for the former Yugoslavia of committing war crimes during the Kosovo conflict.

However Serbia still wants to put Haradinajon trial for alleged war crimes. He was detained in France in January on a Serbian warrant but ultimately released.

Meanwhile Albin Kurti, a senior figure in the Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party, expressed doubts during the election campaign about whether the new war crimes court will start issuing indictments any time soon.

“I am sceptical about the Special Court… soon it will be two years since this issue arose and maybe there will be many other [issues] before it starts its job,” Kurti said.

The new court, which will operate as part of Kosovo’s justice system but is based in The Hague, is highly unpopular in Kosovo because it is seen as tarnishing the KLA’s liberation struggle against Serbian forces.

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