Almost four months after Ramush Haradinaj was arrested in France on a Belgrade-issued Interpol war crimes warrant, a court in the northeastern town of Colmar decided this morning not to extradite him to Serbia.
The former KLA commander and current Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) leader had been prevented from leaving France since being detained while entering the country on January 4 at Basel-Mulhouse Freiburg airport. According to media that reported directly from the court sessions in France, Haradinaj had been accused of the murders of Roma people during the 1998-99 war in Kosovo.
Despite Serbia’s request to deliver him for trial in Belgrade, the French court decided to release Haradinaj. The former prime minister told reporters in France that he hoped to be back in Kosovo later today.
Following the announcement of the decision fireworks rang out in the capital Prishtina.
President Hashim Thaci wrote on his Facebook page that the decision to release Haradinaj was good news for Haradinaj’s family, his associates and for all of Kosovo. “Once again it has been proved that the defamation by Serbian services against the Kosovo Liberation Army are unstable and are not respected by the democratic world,” he said.
Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Enver Hoxaj immediately reacted with a statement on Facebook, hailing the decision to release Haradinaj. “Extraordinary news this morning,” he wrote. “Finally, the court in Colmar has verified what we in Kosovo have been clear from the outset that Ramush Haradinaj is innocent and should be released to join his family, the citizens and Kosovo. Gratitude to the state of France and Kosovo diplomats for their engagement. Congratulations!”
The court has twice previously delayed its decision on whether to extradite Haradinaj, saying that it needed more time to consider all of the evidence.
Eight days after his January arrest, one of Haradinaj’s lawyers, Arianit Koci, explained to Telegrafi that Serbia had attached further evidence to the extradition request that had to be reviewed. But Haradinaj himself recently denied that Serbia has new evidence against him. During a TV interview he gave on Tuesday (April 25) two days before the court decision, Haradinaj said that Serbia hadn’t delivered anything new, apart from evidence that had already been considered and deemed irrelevant by an international court.
Haradinaj has twice been tried in the U.N.-backed International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, after Serbia made 108 criminal complaints against him and other former KLA members under his command, mainly related to charges of terrorism, war crimes and the murder of civilians in Kosovo in 1998-99. He was acquitted of all charges in 2012.
Based on media reports of his most recent arrest, Haradinaj was travelling to France with a diplomatic passport. It is the second time that he has been detained on the 2004 Interpol arrest warrant after he was apprehended in Slovenia in 2015; on that occasion he was held for two days before being released.
His arrest in France this January was followed by various reactions and outcries in Kosovo, as well as in Albania, with critics arguing that the warrant was entirely politically motivated. Haradinaj had travelled to France in 2016 during the European Football Championships and was not apprehended.
Critics also pointed to a statement given right after the arrest by EU External Action Service spokesperson Maja Kocijancic, which called for Haradinaj’s case to be resolved through communication between Kosovo and Serbia, as evidence that the issue is politically motivated and not solely judicial.
Haradinaj’s case has sparked a variety of reactions. Kosovo’s Assembly held an extraordinary session during March and approved a resolution which suspended the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, in protest at the international warrants initiated by Serbia for Haradinaj and their request to try him for war crimes in Belgrade.
Several protests were held within Kosovo, as well as in front of French embassies by members of the Kosovo diaspora in some European and U.S. cities.
Despite both parties having engaged in EU-facilitated dialogue in Brussels since 2011 aimed at the normalization of relations, disagreement between Kosovo and Serbia seems only to have deepened with the Haradinaj developments. It has been one month since the dialogue was suspended and with Serbia in election season and strong indications that Kosovo is preparing for early elections, it is unlikely to continue in the near future.K
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0