The United States Tuesday welcomed the decision by Kosovo's Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj to resign and surrender to the U.N. war crimes tribunal at The Hague. The State Department appealed to Mr. Haradinaj's supporters and others to avoid violence.
The State Department says the decision by Mr. Haradinaj to resign and voluntarily face the war crimes charges demonstrates his deep concern for Kosovo and its people.
The 36-year-old prime minister, a former commander of ethnic-Albanian guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA, resigned Tuesday and said he will surrender to the tribunal after being indicted for war crimes during the KLA's war with Serb forces in 1998 and 1999.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher welcomed the decision and urged the people of Kosovo to maintain calm in order to help meet U.N. standards for the start of talks on possible independence for the region, which is technically still a province of Serbia. "We call upon the people of Kosovo to refrain from any violence, and we reiterate the importance of continuing to work on the standards for Kosovo. Adhering to the rule of law is a key element of the standards. We continue to support the tribunal. We call upon all parties in Kosovo and throughout the region to cooperate fully with the tribunal. This includes apprehending and transferring all fugitive indictees to the Hague," he said.
Mr. Haradinaj, elected prime minister by the Kosovo parliament in December, had been under investigation by U.N. prosecutors for several months and has denied accusations that his KLA fighters committed atrocities against Serb civilians.
Anticipating possible ethnic unrest related to his resignation and surrender, NATO sent several hundred additional troops into Kosovo late Monday to reinforce a presence of about 20 thousand peacekeepers.
Spokesman Boucher said this is an important year for the people of Kosovo, and that to get a positive assessment in the international review due this summer, they must preserve peace and continue to implement the U.N. standards for governance and inter-ethnic harmony.
He said the people of Kosovo will enjoy the full support of the United States in these efforts, but that violence will not be tolerated and would have negative consequences for the review and the region's future.
A year ago, ethnic-Albanians attacked Serb enclaves in the United Nations-run province, killing 19 people, injuring hundreds more, and leaving hundreds of homes in ruins.