PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) – The Prime Minister of Kosovo on Thursday canceled his plans to attend a White House meeting with Serbian leaders following charges against the President of Kosovo over charges of war crimes resulting from the armed conflict between the two Balkan countries in the 1990s.
Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti said he has informed the President of the United States, Richard Grenell, of his decision, which is likely to torpedo the talks. Grenell expected that Hoti would replace the President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, and lead talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
Thaci called off his trip to Washington after hearing on Wednesday of the charges that charged him and nine other former rebels in Kosovo for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder.
The White House meeting on Saturday would be the first talks between Serbia and Kosovo in 19 months. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, an action that Serbia has not recognized. The United States and the European Union have been working to normalize ties between the two countries.
The EU has been leading the negotiations for nine years and the Washington meeting was not coordinated with Europe. EU spokesman Peter Stano did not comment on the White House talks on Thursday. He reiterated the EU’s determination to facilitate the dialogue and said it would resume in Brussels next month.
“There is no alternative to the EU-facilitated dialogue to address the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia,” said Stando.
So far, Grenell has not responded, who immediately after the announcement of Thaci’s indictment tweeted that Hoti would lead the White House meeting with the Serbian president.
Hoti met with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, in Brussels on Thursday to discuss visa rules, the consequences of the corona virus and other issues.
On Wednesday, the prosecutor for the Kosovo Specialist Chambers said Thaci and the nine others are “criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders” of Serbs and Roma, as well as Kosovo Albanian political opponents. Other allegations include forced disappearance, prosecution and torture, he said.
A judgment from the court in The Hague examines the complaint and can still dismiss it if there is insufficient evidence to support it.
The Washington meeting will not take place now, independent analyst Agron Bajrami said, adding that the future of the whole dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia is being questioned.
“It will be very difficult for him (Thaci) to act as president if not for anything other than the fact that he cannot be part of the dialogue now that this has happened,” said Bajrami.
Isa Mustafa, leader of the ruling Democratic League of Kosovo, said that the country’s political parties should first gather and talk before meeting Serbia. He also called for all institutions to continue to function normally, or “it would be an illusion that we could move on to an agreement.”
Parliament postponed the normal weekly session on Thursday.
Thaci was a commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, who fought for independence from Serbia. More than 10,000 people died – most of them ethnic Albanians – and 1,641 are still missing. It ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign that forced Serb forces to end their brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
The defendants include Kadri Veseli, former Speaker of Parliament and leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo, who said he found the charges politically motivated.
The charge was first brought by the prosecutor of the Kosovo Special Tribunal, based in The Hague. The court has operated since 2015 and has questioned hundreds of witnesses. Another Kosovo prime minister resigned last year before being questioned.
Hysni Gucati, head of the war veterans organization, accused the Special Court of being “a racist court because it is one-sided.” He cited approximately 460 massacres, more than 16,000 dead, including 1,200 children and 200,000 burnt houses during the 1998-1999 war.
He also said that the court was politically motivated and that the charges were likely a revenge from Europe, which was dropped when Thaci turned to the US to take the lead in the dialogue.
Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia remain high. Negotiations to normalize their relations, facilitated by the European Union, started in March 2011 and resulted in some 30 agreements, but most have not been fulfilled.
Semini reported from Tirana, Albania; Lorne Cook contributed from Brussels.
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