Kosovo president Hashim Thaci resigned on Thursday after learning that war crimes charges against him had been confirmed by the Kosovo war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
“To defend the integrity of the Kosovo presidency, the state of Kosovo and the people of Kosovo, I resign from the position of Kosovo president,” Mr Thaci told a news conference in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina.
Mr Thaci is alleged to have committed “a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution and torture” during and after the 1998-99 war against Serbian rule, according to the special prosecutor’s office.
Kadri Veseli, a former speaker of parliament and the leader of the party Mr Thaci founded, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, and two other prominent political leaders were also indicted on war crimes charges on Thursday.
The Hague indictments against Mr Thaci, Mr Veseli and others state they are “criminally responsible” for the murder of almost 100 ethnic Albanians, Serbs and Roma living in Kosovo. Some of the killings were said to be politically motivated. Mr Thaci, Mr Veseli and others publicly named have all denied wrongdoing.
The news that Mr Thaci faced a war crimes indictment first emerged in June, when he pulled out of White House-brokered negotiations with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic.
Mr Thaci was the political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army during the 1998-99 war against forces loyal to former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic. Nato bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to force the troops to withdraw. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, when Mr Thaci was prime minister. However, Serbia, along with UN Security Council allies Russia and China, still does not recognise it as an independent state.
The Specialist court that will examine the alleged war crimes is technically part of Kosovo’s judicial system but is staffed by international employees and based in the Netherlands. It was set up in 2015 under pressure from western allies, due to concerns that the young country’s judiciary did not have the capacity to adequately protect witnesses. Many Kosovars see it as an insult.
On Wednesday Jakup Krasniqi, a former Kosovo Liberation Army spokesman and veteran Kosovan politician was arrested on war crimes charges by police working for EULEX, the EU’s special rule of law mission in Kosovo.
At the same time Rexhep Selimi, a former KLA commander and MP for the Self-Determination party, announced that he would travel to The Hague to answer to charges against him, without giving any details.
Both have denied any wrongdoing.
US presidential hopeful Joe Biden referred to Mr Thaci in 2010 as the “George Washington of Kosovo” because he was a former fighter who transitioned to become a political leader.
Parliament speaker Vjosa Osmani, of the ruling Democratic League of Kosovo, will become acting president until parliament approves a successor.