Kosovo's prime minister
Young and wanted
Dec 29th 2004 |
A prime minister who is accused of involvement in war crimes
RAMUSH HARADINAJ is, at just 36, Europe's youngest prime minister. He may also be its most controversial. That is hard to credit, as he sits calmly in his spacious office in Kosovo's capital, Pristina. His neatly pressed blue shirt, red silk tie and buffed brogues are in stark contrast to the mud-spattered camouflage he wore six years ago, when he was a senior commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army, which fought a vicious war against the troops of Yugoslavia's (and Serbia's) former president, Slobodan Milosevic.
It is Mr Haradinaj's time in the KLA in 1998-99 that causes disquiet. Vociferous Serbs, including Serbia's prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, claim that Mr Haradinaj was implicated in war crimes in Kosovo. The Serbs have issued warrants for his arrest, and have called on Kosovo's UN bosses to annul his appointment. Investigators from the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague have questioned Mr Haradinaj in Pristina. But the prime minister dismisses all charges as Serb fabrications.
In fact, the charismatic Mr Haradinaj, who hails from the Decane region of western Kosovo, could prove to be just the right man for the job. The KLA was disbanded after NATO and the UN intervened in the province in June 1999, chasing out Mr Milosevic's tanks and gunmen. Kosovo then became a UN protectorate, but it is still technically part of Serbia and Montenegro, the loose union that replaced Yugoslavia in 2003.
Mr Haradinaj duly swapped his camouflage for a business suit, forming his own political party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), in April 2000. In October's elections the AAK took nine seats, enabling it to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrat Party, or LDK, the party of Kosovo's president, Ibrahim Rugova. Mr Haradinaj became prime minister in early December. Kosovo's UN bosses termed his appointment “democracy at work”. The secretary-general of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said only that it was “a complicated situation”.
Mr Haradinaj is clever and tough enough to have survived both war against the Serbs and the infighting endemic to Kosovo's violent politics. That may help him to rein in his more hotheaded supporters, and so stave off any danger of a repeat of last March's anti-Serb violence, in which 19 people died and nearly a thousand were injured. He is also astute enough to pay heed to western interests.
The downside is that Mr Haradinaj's appointment has incensed the government in Belgrade, diminishing any chances of dialogue. And he risks being indicted by The Hague tribunal; the chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, has former KLA leaders in her sights as she prepares to issue final indictments (the agreed deadline for which falls this weekend). Were Mr Haradinaj sent to The Hague, there might be violence by disgruntled ethnic Albanians, especially in his home region.
Talks on the final status of Kosovo are due to begin in 2005, if the province's 1.8m ethnic Albanians and 100,000 Serbs can show progress towards internationally required standards of governance. The UN's secretary-general, Kofi Annan, has said that the economy (unemployment stands at 55%) and security are the two main problems. Kosovo's ethnic Albanians want independence; Serbia is against. The province's UN proconsul, a no-nonsense Dane named Soren Jessen-Petersen, insists that this matter is for the UN and western governments to decide. One official says that Kosovo knows exactly what it has to do before final-status talks can begin; he insists that the talks will not happen if it fails. So it remains essential that Kosovo's people measure up—and that the hotheads keep their cool even if their war-hero-turned-prime-minister is arrested.