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The Hague Reclaims Haradinaj as Protest Looms in Kosovo

February 26, 2007

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- Former KLA chief and ex-Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj was returned to the custody of the Hague Tribunal today, just as the recent death of a potential key witness in the international court’s war crimes case against him underscored the likelihood that the powerful Albanian leader will prevail by way of intimidation.

In Haradinaj’s opinion, what will actually prevail is “justice”: the leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo has steadfastly and categorically denied the prosecution’s claims that atrocities against Serbs and Roma occurred under his watch during the Kosovo war some eight years ago. He was indicted in 2005, but soon released and allowed to return to Kosovo, where the UN administration and its then-leader, Soren Jessen-Petersen, treated the ex-militant like royalty, attending his family events and losing no opportunity to praise his alleged positive role in stabilizing Kosovo.

The slain witness, Kujtim Berisha of Decani in western Kosovo, was hit by a car in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica on February 16. Podgorica daily Vijesti reported that Berisha “had recently met with a representative of a “foreign organization or foreign state,’ concerning to the upcoming Haradinaj trial.” Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic noted that “some of the previous murders directly linked to the Hague indictee [Haradinaj] never ended up in court since those who pointed in his direction would later mysteriously withdraw their statements and keep silent.” In a separate case investigating Albanian-on-Albanian war crimes, and implicating Haradinaj’s brother Daut, several key witnesses were also killed. There are few who would risk the ire of one of Kosovo’s most powerful clans to serve international justice.

Haradinaj, whose 37-count indictment was handed down in February 2005, is scheduled to take the stand on Monday, two days after a major protest is to be held by Kosovo Albanians over the perceived slow process of making the Serbian province an independent state of its own. Chants of “Free Ramush” are sure to be heard, and it is likely that the Hague’s actions against a man perceived to be a war hero will provide further fuel for the fire. The February 10th deaths of two protesters at the hands of police led to the resignation of Fatmir Rexhepi, the Kosovo Albanian interior minister and raised the temperature on an already volatile situation.

As protests in Kosovo have increasingly come to target the UNMIK staff, it is no surprise that the civil administration was given a mandatory day off on Friday, March 2, the day before the protest.

According to an internal UNMIK memo, the day “has been deemed a compensatory day off for all staff members, making next weekend a 3 day weekend.” No doubt Kosovo’s finest will be better off taking the weekend for shopping in Skopje or sightseeing in Thessaloniki. The interim administration, increasingly unpopular with locals and acutely aware of its own unending string of failures, has no interest in coming into the line of fire.

Attacks against the UN, the scapegoat replacement for the old Yugoslav authorities, have been increasing. In the early hours on Monday, a hand grenade was thrown in the parking lot of the OSCE building in Pec, 80 kilometers to the west of Pristina. Seven OSCE vehicles and two civilian cars were damaged. The attack was calculated to have been worse, and had political significance: another, unexploded hand grenade was also found nearby, and “the blast occurred ahead of the visit by the OSCE Chairman-in- Office, the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who was due to arrive in Pristina from Belgrade Tuesday.”

A similar attack at a UN parking lot in Pristina caused UNMIK top brass to issue an order that all vehicles must now be parked “only in secured areas.” UNMIK’s area of operation, already reduced of its own accord since the reappearance of armed militant checkpoints in western Kosovo in 2005, continues to shrink as the international administration comes increasingly under siege from the very people who welcomed it as a liberating force almost eight long years ago.

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