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Trial of Former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci Begins: Facing Charges of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

The trial of former Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, has begun at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague. Thaci, once a beloved leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), now faces charges of murder, torture, and persecution allegedly committed across Kosovo and northern Albania during and after the 1998-1999 war for independence from Serbia. In his opening statement, Thaci insisted he is an innocent man, claiming that victims do not obtain justice when the innocent are pursued.

Thaci, a former student who emerged from political exile in Switzerland to join the KLA, rose to prominence during the war. He was a key figure in the peace talks in France in 1999 and was seen as a leader who could guide Kosovo towards independence. However, prosecutors paint a different picture, alleging that Thaci and three other former senior KLA leaders were responsible for the murder and abuse of people they considered traitors or collaborators with Serb forces.

Thaci’s defense lawyer, Gregory Kehoe, has argued that his client had no effective command and control over the KLA at the time the alleged war crimes were committed. The issue of command and control will be a key factor in the trial, which is expected to last many months. The prosecution, on the other hand, claims that Thaci and his co-defendants were all members of the KLA general staff who pursued a policy of targeting civilians perceived as collaborators and traitors.

Former Kosovo president Hashim Thaci (Via Hashim Thaci/Twitter)

The trial has sparked widespread protests in Kosovo and The Hague, with hundreds of ethnic Albanians waving flags and banners in support of the four defendants. The demonstrations have been met with allegations of intimidation and threats directed at witnesses who are expected to testify against the defendants. The trial is being held at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, a branch of the Kosovo legal system established in The Hague due to concerns over witness safety and security.

The war in Kosovo, which ended with a 78-day campaign of NATO air strikes against Serbian forces, resulted in the deaths of over 13,000 people, most of whom were ethnic Albanians. The conflict also led to the displacement of over one million ethnic Albanian Kosovars from their homes. The trial of Hashim Thaci and his co-defendants is seen as a crucial step towards holding accountable those responsible for the war crimes and human rights abuses committed during the conflict.

As the trial unfolds, Thaci has expressed regret that late US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other international diplomats who have since passed away cannot speak on his behalf. He has also thanked those who have come forward to testify about his innocence. However, the prosecution remains committed to presenting evidence that Thaci and his co-defendants are guilty of the crimes alleged against them. The trial will be closely watched by the international community, with implications for the pursuit of justice and accountability in Kosovo and beyond.

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