Kosovo PM resigns over war crime charge

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The Independent Online

The fallout from the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s has prompted the resignation of Kosovo's Prime Minister and dealt a blow to Croatia's hopes of starting EU membership talks this month.

The fallout from the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s has prompted the resignation of Kosovo's Prime Minister and dealt a blow to Croatia's hopes of starting EU membership talks this month.

Kosovo's premier, Ramush Haradinaj, a former leader of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla army, quit his post yesterday after being indicted by the UN's war crimes tribunal in The Hague. And in a separate development, the UN court's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, accused Croatia of spying on war crimes investigators and failing to co-operate over efforts to arrest a general wanted on war crimes charges.

Ms Del Ponte's declaration ends Croatia's chance of starting membership talks with the EU this month, unless the wanted Croatian general, Ante Gotovina, surrenders in the coming days.

In Kosovo, 18,000 Nato troops were on standby to deal with any public reaction to the indictment of Mr Haradinaj, a former commander of the western wing of the Kosovo Liberation Army who became premier despite international reservations and who had hoped to preside over his country's independence.

Mr Haradinaj, 37, earned a reputation for ruthlessness at the time of the insurgency when ethnic Albanians seen as collaborators were targeted, as well as the Serb security forces.

As he announced his departure, the outgoing premier proclaimed his innocence, promised to co-operate with the tribunal and appealed for calm from his supporters. Mr Haradinaj is the first head of government to be indicted since the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, and the charges against him have yet to be made clear.

But they are likely to relate to two cases. One involved the abduction of Roma and ethnic Albanian families at a wedding on 12 June 1999, near Djakovica, after which three men were killed and some were tortured. The other led to the execution of 37 Serbs and ethnic Albanians in July 1998, near the Radonjic lake, close to Djakovica. In his book Stories of War and Freedom, Mr Haradinaj described how KLA guerrillas attacked Serbian forces: "We constantly attacked Serb forces. Everywhere. Day and night. Without hiding. Each and every day we killed Serbian policemen".

Mr Hardinaj, who admits to having amassed a fortune, spent much of the 1990s in western Europe drifting between jobs, working on building sites and as a nightclub bouncer. The outgoing premier's father and a brother were killed fighting Serb security forces, while another brother was found guilty of war crimes against Serbs in 2002.

His indictment comes at a sensitive time. In July the international community will assess whether Kosovo is implementing accepted standards, such as those relating to the treatment of minorities. In September discussions are expected to start on the status of the province, which aspires to independence.

Nato's forces in Kosovo have been boosted by about 1,100 British and German soldiers, who are there on a pre-planned exercise, and a small EU force from Bosnia. No violence had been reported early last night.

The European commissioner for enlargement, Olli Rehn, said Mr Haradinaj had made a "bold and right" decision, a sentiment endorsed by the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.

Ms Del Ponte's letter to the EU on Croatia destroyed its hopes of convincing European leaders that Zagreb had met European demands to co-operate with the tribunal in The Hague over General Gotovina. The start of talks on Croatia's entry into the EU will be delayed.

Ms Del Ponte said Zagreb's actions to increase co-operation "come late, are of marginal value and can hardly address the issues" raised in an earlier assessment. She said Croatia had mounted intelligence operations against her staff last year with the knowledge of the country's leadership: "Sub-stantial intelligence resources were used to follow ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] staff and obstruct efforts to locate Ante Gotovina. This information was never provided to me by the authorities."