Saturday 24 February 2018

Former Kosovo PM may face extradition to Serbia after arrest in France

Former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, right, is rushed by police officers into the Colmar courthouse, eastern France (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)
Former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, right, is rushed by police officers into the Colmar courthouse, eastern France (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

A former prime minister of Kosovo is facing possible extradition to Serbia to face war crimes charges after being arrested at a French airport.

Ramush Haradinaj appeared in a court in Colmar, eastern France, that ruled he should stay in custody during extradition proceedings.

Mr Haradinaj, a former guerrilla fighter in Kosovo's 1998-1999 war for independence from Serbia, was detained on Wednesday at Basel Mulhouse Freiburg airport, on the border with Switzerland and Germany, on a Serbian warrant.

He was cleared of war crimes charges in two lengthy trials by a UN tribunal, but Serbia accuses him of committing war crimes including kidnappings, torture and killings against Serb civilians when he was a senior rebel commander in western Kosovo.

Kosovo's government called the charges "illegal, unfair and tendentious".

Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, also a former guerrilla leader and a political rival of Mr Haradinaj's who used to be his friend, called the detention "unacceptable".

Mr Thaci said the accusations were "damaging peace and stability" in the Balkans and were an effort to derail Kosovo's push to join international organisations as an independent state.

In Belgrade, Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic expressed hope that France would extradite Mr Haradinaj and would not let politics override legal matters.

"Our prosecutor's office has numerous pieces of evidence against Mr Haradinaj," Mr Vucic said. "He is accused of so many (crimes) that they are impossible to list."

Kosovo foreign minister Enver Hoxhaj spoke by telephone with French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault to express his dismay at the arrest, saying "Serbia's arrest warrants are unacceptable and not valid for Kosovo citizens".

Mr Hoxhaj proclaimed Mr Haradinaj's innocence and called Serbia's pursuit of him politically motivated.

France and most European countries recognised Kosovo's independence after it seceded from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia has not.

Mr Haradinaj was detained in Slovenia two years ago at Belgrade's request, but later released.

Pristina on Thursday also denied a request from Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic to visit Kosovo. Pristina and Belgrade are holding EU-brokered talks to reconcile their differences, and the two states have agreed to give each other advance notice of planned visits by their respective government representatives.

"The Kosovo government considers that Serbia's recent behaviour and continuous statements are against the spirit of inter-state collaboration," a foreign ministry statement said.


Press Association

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