Kosovo bars Serbian president over former leader’s arrest

Belgrade claims ex-Kosovo chief Haradinaj carried out war crimes in 1998-1999

Kosovo Albanians protest after a former prime minister was arrested in France on an international arrest warrant filed by Serbia. Photograph: Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images

Kosovo Albanians protest after a former prime minister was arrested in France on an international arrest warrant filed by Serbia. Photograph: Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images

 

Kosovo has accused Serbia of damaging their relations and barred a visit by its president, after France arrested a former leader of the mostly ethnic Albanian state on a warrant issued by Belgrade.

Ramush Haradinaj, an ex-prime minister of Kosovo whom Serbia accuses of war crimes, was detained when he landed at an airport in eastern France on Wednesday.

A rebel leader with the nickname “Rambo” during Kosovo’s fight to escape Serbian rule in 1998-1999, Mr Haradinaj served as Kosovo’s premier for 100 days in 2004-2005 before travelling voluntarily to the United Nations court in The Hague to face trial.

In 2008 and at a retrial four years later, he was cleared of allegedly torturing and killing Serbs and ethnic Albanians who collaborated with them.

Officials in Kosovo said they refused to allow nationalist Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic to visit ethnic Serb areas of the country on Friday – Christmas Eve for Serbian Orthodox believers – in response to Mr Haradinaj’s detention.

Reciprocal measures

Kosovo’s foreign minister Enver Hoxhaj said his country “took reciprocal measures with Nikolic [and] we will do that again in the future. There has to be a revision of our relations with Serbia and a revision of the dialogue”.

Prime minister Isa Mustafa said Kosovo regarded Belgrade’s behaviour as “unfriendly” and believed the use of such “completely illegal and unjust” arrest warrants was “provoking tensions and conflicts, and damaging the European [integration] process in the region”.

The prospect of eventual EU membership has persuaded Serbia and Kosovo  – which formally declared independence from Belgrade in 2008 – to discuss matters of practical co-operation and issues concerning Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority.

Relations are still sensitive and prone to flare-ups, however.

On Friday, ethnic Albanian protesters hurled stones at a bus taking ethnic Serb pilgrims to a medieval Orthodox church in the town of Gjakova. The bus was only lightly damaged and no one was injured, according to Serbian media.

French custody

Mr Haradinaj is expected to remain in French custody until Serbia decides whether to make a formal extradition request.

On Thursday, Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vucic said Belgrade did want to put Mr Haradinaj on trial.

On Facebook, Mr Haradinaj wrote on Friday that it was “sad how some countries still respect the decisions of the former [Slobodan] Milosevic regime”, in reference to the man who led Serbia during the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia.

“I have a message for Serbia’s friends in Kosovo and abroad: Kosovo’s road to statehood cannot be stopped by anyone,” Mr Haradinaj added.

Hundreds of supporters of Mr Haradinaj and his political party rallied on Friday outside the French embassy in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, and waved banners saying “Haradinaj is Kosovo” and “Seek criminals in Serbia”.