A special prosecutor's office dealing with Kosovo's 1998-99 uprising against Serbian rule said on Wednesday it had indicted Kosovo President Hashim Thaci for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity including nearly 100 murders.
The Specialist Chamber was set up in The Hague in 2015 to handle cases of alleged crimes by Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas during the war that led to Kosovo’s independence from Serbia a decade later.
The indictment is "the result of a lengthy investigation and reflects the SPO's (Special Prosecutor's Office) determination that it can prove all of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt," the SPO said in a statement.
It said "others" had also been indicted including Kadri Veseli, a former speaker of Kosovo's parliament. Thaci and Veseli, both ex-top commanders in the KLA, have previously denied involvement in any war crimes during the late 1990s conflict. The SPO gave no details of the alleged war crimes.
It also said Thaci and Veseli were believed "to have carried out a secret campaign to overturn the law that created the Court and otherwise obstruct the work of the Court in an attempt to ensure that they do not face justice."
There was no immediate reaction from Thaci. But his office said later on Wednesday he had cancelled a trip to the White House in Washington for a planned first round of US-mediated talks with Serbia on normalising relations - among conditions the European Union has set for either country to join the bloc.
The Specialist Chamber is governed by Kosovo law but is staffed by international judges and prosecutors.
War crimes allegations against the KLA first surfaced in a 2011 report by the Council of Europe rights agency that accused guerrillas of killing civilian Serbs and ethnic Albanian political opponents during the 1998-99 conflict.
Local efforts to investigate alleged KLA war crimes have so far been foiled by widespread intimidation in the tiny state where clan loyalties run deep and former rebels are lionised.
The special prosecutor's office is based in the Netherlands partly to help ensure protection of witnesses.
Thaci Withdraws from White House Talks
Thaci pulled out of a White House meeting with Serbian officials set for Saturday following his indictment. US presidential envoy Richard Grenell, who invited Kosovar and Serbian officials to meet in Washington to jump start their stalled peace talks, tweeted that Kosovo President Hashim Thaci decided to postpone his trip to Washington.
Grenell wrote: "I respect his decision not to attend the discussions until the legal issues of those allegations are settle. The discussions will proceed and be led by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti," the US envoy said. Grenell said.
Thaci and nine other former separatist fighters were indicted on a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes charges by a court investigating crimes against ethnic Serbs, Albanians and Roma during and after Kosovo's 1998-99 independence war with Serbia.
The Kosovo Specialist Chambers said the indictment accuses them of being "criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders" of political opponents and Kosovar Albanian, Serb and Roma victims.