Kosovo ex-premier Haradinaj cleared of war crimes again

Thu Nov 29, 2012 1:35pm EST
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By Thomas Escritt and Fatos Bytyci

AMSTERDAM/PRISTINA (Reuters) - Ramush Haradinaj, who helped lead a guerrilla insurgency in Kosovo in the late nineties and served briefly as prime minister, was acquitted of war crimes on Thursday for a second time, setting up a possible return to power but angering Serbia.

"I'm happy that international justice has confirmed that our road to freedom was clean and just," Haradinaj, 44, told reporters on his arrival in Kosovo, where he was met by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and a military honor guard.

The verdict, in a retrial at a United Nations court in The Hague, was met with jubilation and fireworks in Kosovo, but condemned by Serbia as proof of the court's anti-Serb bias.

The fallout could yet test a new push by the European Union to reconcile Serbia and its former southern province almost five years after Kosovo declared independence with Western backing.

The verdict also dealt a fresh blow to U.N. prosecutors after the acquittal on appeal this month of Croatian general Ante Gotovina for crimes against Serbs during a 1995 military offensive.

Judges ruled that there was no evidence to support charges against Haradinaj of crimes against humanity during a 1998-99 war between guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and security forces under late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Prosecutors had accused Haradinaj and two accomplices of persecuting ethnic Serbs in an effort to drive them out.

"On the contrary, the evidence establishes that, when he heard about the mistreatment of individuals, Haradinaj said no such thing should happen because this is damaging of our cause," said the presiding judge, Bakone Justice Moloto.   Continued...

Kosovo's former Prime Minister and former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army Ramush Haradinaj attends the verdict reading in his retrial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague November 29, 2012. REUTERS/Koen van Weel/Pool