‘George Washington of Kosovo’ goes on trial for war crimes

Lazy eyes listen


On Monday, Hashim Thaci, the leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), pleaded not guilty before the EU-funded special tribunal in The Hague. Thaci and three other KLA leaders were charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for their actions during the insurgency against Serbia in 1998-99, which NATO eventually supported with an air war.

Kosovo Specialist Chambers Court prosecutors charged Thaci, Kadri Veseli, Rexhep Selimi, and former KLA spokesman Jakup Krasniqi with murder, torture, forced disappearances, persecution, and cruel treatment of ethnic Albanians, Roma, and Serbs in order to gain control of the entire province.

“What motivated them to do it?” According to prosecutor Alex Whiting, the KLA had a “clear and explicit policy to target collaborators and perceived traitors, including political opponents.”

The prosecutors claimed that, in addition to a desire for power, the defendants were motivated by “fear” that their cause would be defeated and “hatred” of Serbs following clashes with the Yugoslav military and police.

Between January 1, 1998 and December 31, 2000, at least 407 people were abducted and extrajudicially imprisoned, with at least 100 of them murdered, according to the indictment. In March 1999, NATO launched a 78-day air campaign on behalf of the KLA.

“I’m completely innocent,” Thaci, 54, told the tribunal, repeating his plea from when he was detained in 2020. The others also pleaded not guilty.

Thaci rose from KLA commander known as “Snake” to Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) leader and first prime minister of the self-proclaimed independent government in 2008. He was elected president in 2016, but resigned after the indictment. Serbia refuses to recognise the province’s declaration of independence.

A Council of Europe investigation in 2010 linked Thaci to organised crime, including the trade of human organs extracted forcibly from KLA captives. The Specialist Chambers was established in 2015 after the UN tribunal’s case against other KLA leaders fell apart due to witness intimidation and murder.

Thousands of ethnic Albanians protested the trial in Kosovo over the weekend, and several dozen protested outside the court in the Netherlands as well. Edi Rama, Albania’s prime minister, tweeted his support for Thaci, noting that he was “once hailed as the George Washington of Kosovo by Joe Biden himself!” At the time, the current US president was a senator who strongly supported the NATO war.

The German ambassador in Pristina also backed the court, tweeting, “It is not the KLA that is on trial… but individuals accused of grave war crimes.” The indictment, however, specifically charges Thaci and others with participating in a “joint criminal enterprise” to take over Kosovo. That legal doctrine, devised by an American lawyer, was first used in the 1990s by the ad hoc tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to go after the Serb military and political leadership.