Former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci has appeared for the first time before a war crimes court in The Hague to face charges of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from Kosovo’s war of independence more than 20 years ago.
A commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) during the 1998-1999 war, Thaci resigned as president on November 5 after learning the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) had confirmed an indictment against him.
Wearing a gray suit and red tie, Thaci, 52, entered a plea of "not guilty" on November 9 and told the court, "I do not agree" with the war crime charges.
Thaci and two other former UCK members were transferred to the detention facilities of The Hague-based KSC later that day.
The former president, who has claimed innocence, has pledged to cooperate with the tribunal.
The KSC has said the initial appearance will be a public hearing.
“During an initial appearance, the pretrial judge makes sure that the rights of the accused, including the right to legal representation, are respected, and that the accused understands the charges against him or her,” the court said in a statement.
Thaci, who says he is innocent, has pledged to cooperate with the tribunal.
The KSC and Specialist Prosecutor's Office (SPO) is a court of Kosovo, located in The Hague, hosting four Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor's Office.
The SPO in June accused Thaci and other suspects of being "criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders," as well as the "enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture."
The alleged crimes involved "hundreds of known victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities and include political opponents," according to the SPO.
The KSC is mandated to look into allegations that members of the UCK committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war to gain independence from Serbia.
It operates under Kosovar law but is based in the Netherlands to shield witnesses from intimidation.
Kosovo's war of independence from Serbia left more than 10,000 people dead. Most of them were ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. More than 1,600 people remain unaccounted for. The fighting ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign against Serbia.
Kosovo, which has a largely ethnic Albanian population, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by many Western states but not Serbia or its allies Russia and China.
Two other former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) were transferred to the detention facilities of the KSC on November 5.
They are Kadri Veseli, a former speaker of parliament and leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, and Rexhep Selimi, a Kosovar lawmaker and former UCK member.
Jakup Krasniqi, also an ex-speaker of parliament and former guerrilla commander, was taken into custody on November 4 and taken to The Hague.
Krasniqi pleaded not guilty to the charges when he made his first appearance at the court on November 9.
"I do not feel guilty or responsible for any count stated in the indictment and for anything else stated in the indictment," he told the pretrial judge.
Information about the date of the appearances of Veseli and Selimi is to be announced later.
Salih Mustafa, one of the founders of the UCK, had already been transferred to The Hague to face similar charges.
Two more suspects, Nesim Haradinaj and Hysen Gucati, are also in detention in the Dutch city, but their indictments have yet to be confirmed.