Sunday, November 21, 2004

UN war crimes probe muddies talks on new Kosovo government - AFP

A UN war crimes investigation into the man tipped to become Kosovo's next prime minister, former ethnic Albanian rebel leader Ramush Haradinaj, is delaying the formation of a new government after last month's election.

President Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), which won 47 seats in the 120-member assembly, announced last week that it had reached a coalition agreement with Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK).

Under the deal Rugova would stay on for another term as president and Haradinaj would take the post of prime minister in the southern Serbian province, which has been under UN administration since the end of the 1998-1999 war.

But Haradinaj's past as one of the best-known ethnic Albanian guerrilla commanders during the separatist fight against Serbian troops has come back to haunt him at the worst possible time for his political ambitions.

Earlier this month UN prosecutors called him in for questioning about war crimes allegations levelled by the ethnic Serb minority, charges he has repeatedly denied but which continue to dog his political career.

Haradinaj told reporters after his interrogation that he has "no other obligations" to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), but it is unclear whether the UN's investigations are complete.

Western diplomats in Kosovo are reportedly concerned at the prospect of a guerrilla commander with a questionable background at the helm of the Kosovo government.

"International sources in Pristina said the fact that Haradinaj is considered as a suspect by (the ICTY) is sufficient for a poor perception of his appointment to the top of the government," the Koha Ditore daily wrote Friday.

Chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has said she will indict former Kosovo Albanian guerrilla leaders by the end of this year, sparking outrage among the ethnic Albanian majority.

Analysts in Pristina believe the timing of Haradinaj's questioning, straight after the final election results were announced late last month, was no accident. They say it was a deliberate ploy to keep him out of high office.

Haradinaj was a high-profile commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the ethnic Albanian rebel movement which fought Slobodan Milosevic's Serbian forces for independence from Serbia.

He was in charge of the western zone of Kosovo during the conflict, where Serbs claim he authorised the murders of several civilians.

Veton Surroi, a journalist-turned-politician, said the coalition tie-up between Rugova and Haradinaj was unstable, with the ICTY being "the evident problem".

"We consider that such a solution is a postponement of crises for several months. Furthermore we are afraid that it would have negative implications in the coming developments, given the big challenges ahead of Kosova in 2005," he said.

The UN is expected to review Kosovo's progress toward meeting benchmarks of multi-ethnicity and democracy next year before deciding whether to begin discussions on the final status of the province.

A UN indictment against Haradinaj would cause widespread dissatisfaction among Kosovo Albanians and potentially derail a political process which has won the backing of the UN mission (UNMIK).

"Immediately after the elections, I urged the political parties to act on the voices of the voters by moving quickly, and they have done so, without international involvement," UNMIK chief Soren Jessen-Petersen said Thursday.

Asked to comment on the possibility of Haradinaj becoming prime minister, Jessen-Petersen said: "If he says no to this he would say no to democracy".

"Voters should be asked if somebody is acceptable for prime minister," he said.

No comments: