I helped bring down Slobodan Milosevic. Now there is the hope of justice for our citizens

Almost two decades after the Kosovo war, I will not allow our national history to be rewritten to blur the lines between the hunted and the prey

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The Independent Online

The Parliament of the Republic of Kosovo voted last month to amend the country's Constitution to enable the creation of a Special Court that will adjudicate alleged crimes committed by Kosovo Albanians during and immediately after the 1999 liberation war.

After lengthy deliberations, the final vote in our Parliament was overwhelmingly positive. As President of the Parliament’s largest party, I worked hard with my colleagues to convince its members, as well as the public, to establish this unusual legal instrument so that we might have credible trials that are independent and internationally managed.

Seventeen years have passed since the Kosovo war began in 1998. At that time, I was the political director of a guerrilla force that started an uprising against Slobodan Milosevic’s regime. Milosevic and his cronies had for years engaged in the systematic oppression of the people of Kosovo. Our uprising was a true case of David fighting Goliath. We had no weapons, no training, and numbers of guerrilla fighters on the field were more often than not, raw volunteers who faced battalions of organised and vicious Serbian police and military forces.

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Kosovo's guerrilla resistance quickly became a mortal threat to Milosevic. His hands were already bloody after tens of thousands of people died in Bosnia and Croatia, including at Srebrenica. We believe that in Kosovo, too, Serbia committed genocide but the democratic world simply would not allow itself to witness the conclusion of one more deadly pogrom in Western Balkans. Nato intervened and Kosovo was freed.

A million people expelled from their homeland returned. They returned from refugee camps to find the bones of their family members in mass graves, their houses burned to the ground, and their livelihoods destroyed. The Serbian government tried to hide traces of their crimes. Thousands of bodies were reburied secretly, some as far as 600 kilometres away. The Hague Tribunal for war crimes proved without a shred of doubt that the entire Serbian state apparatus, from lowly gravediggers to the highest generals and presidents, was engaged in an organised crime to wipe out Kosovo’s Albanian population.

After the war ended, not everything went as we had hoped. We initially managed to demilitarise the Kosovo Liberation Army, but some individuals might have eventually been engaged in criminal attacks on the remaining minorities. Many Serbians were attacked in the aftermath of the war, either in acts of vengeance or for financial gain. These individual crimes committed by few Kosovars were horrible and we condemn them. But our enemies pretended these isolated acts were morally equivalent to the massive genocide launched by Serbia’s government against our people. This is outrageous. I have condemned these acts committed by Kosovars, and now we have the Special Court to separate acts by the former members of our liberation army from these individuals.

 

No Kosovar, myself included, will stand idly by and allow our Special Court to equate the acts of Slobodan Milosevic, the so-called “Butcher of the Balkans,” with the acts of desperate or criminal individuals committed during or after the war. Serbia's war against Kosovo was conducted with the involvement of the army, police, and paramilitary units, and backed by Serbian intellectuals. It was fascism, pure and simple. We, in Kosovo, will not allow our history to be rewritten to blur the differences between the hunter and the prey. We will protect the legitimacy and the legacy of our just war and Kosovo's freedom and independence.

We are proud of our liberation and the sacrifices we made to achieve our independence. We are proud of the brave men and women who served in the ranks of the Kosovo Liberation Army. The liberation movement did not belong to an individual, but to all citizens of Kosovo. We do not have anything to hide. There is no reason for fear. Kosovo will cooperate fully with international investigators, prosecutors and judges in the trial proceedings that lie ahead. We will go the extra mile to ensure justice is done and Kosovo continues on its road to fully integrate into the institutions and values of western civilisation. The world has my word, that of our government, and that of our fellow citizens. Kosovo, with all the challenges ahead, is and will be a success story.

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