Hashim Thaci, rebel-turned-president accused of war crimes

 

November 05, 2020

 

  • Thaci downed his guns and donned a suit, becoming known in the West as the “Gerry Adams of Kosovo” after his counterpart in Sinn Fein
  • But his image was tarnished by a 2010 Council of Europe report that linked him to organized crime and politically motivated murders of Serb, Albanian and Roma civilians


Kosovo President Hashim Thaci addresses the nation as he announced his resignation to face war crimes charges, Pristina, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. PHOTO: AP

 

By AFP

 

PRISTINA – Hashim Thaci, who resigned Thursday to face an indictment from a war crimes court in The Hague, is a former rebel leader once known as “Snake” who fought for Kosovo’s independence and has dominated the young democracy ever since.

For over two decades Thaci has played a central role in Kosovo’s political scene, making his name during the 1998-1999 war with Serbia as political leader of the pro-independence ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

The tall, silver-haired 52-year-old, who also served more than seven years as prime minister, saw his popularity soar when he declared Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in 2008 just three months after he won an election.

But his image was tarnished by a 2010 Council of Europe report that linked him to organized crime and politically motivated murders of Serb, Albanian and Roma civilians during and after the war.

Special prosecutors in The Hague tasked with investigating the allegations announced charges against him in June, among them murder, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture.

On Thursday Thaci said he would resign after an indictment against him was confirmed by a pre-trial judge.

“These are not easy moments for me and my family, and for those who have supported and believed in me in the past three decades of our struggle for freedom, independence and nation-building,” he told a press conference.

Born on April 24, 1968 in the Drenica region of western Kosovo — a hotbed of separatism among Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian community — Thaci was involved in passive resistance to the Belgrade authorities from the early 1990s as a student.

He later moved to Switzerland — home to a large Albanian diaspora — where he studied history.

Together with ultra-leftists in the diaspora, he became frustrated by the policy of peaceful opposition to Belgrade’s repression of ethnic Albanians followed by late Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova.

Instead, he corralled other like-minded ethnic Albanians into an underground guerrilla army, the KLA, to take on the forces of then Serbia strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Thaci earned the nom de guerre of “Snake” during the conflict, when he served as the KLA’s political leader.

More than 13,000 lives, mainly ethnic Albanians, were lost in the war that ended after NATO intervened in 1999, ousting Serb forces and establishing UN administration over Kosovo.

Thaci then downed his guns and donned a suit, becoming known in the West as the “Gerry Adams of Kosovo” after his counterpart in Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.

He won elections in November 2007 after the death the previous year of Rugova, who was regarded as the father of the nation and had proved unbeatable in all post-war polls.

Three months later, under Thaci’s leadership, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia.

He has since remained at the heart of Kosovo politics, notably becoming president in 2016, despite accusations of corruption by his critics.

He has always denied any wrongdoing during the war, describing it as a “just” rebellion against Serbian repression.

“Political mistakes in peace I could have made, but war crimes, never,” he said in June, adding that he would “immediately resign” if the indictment was confirmed.

“I will not face justice from this office,” he said.

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