Lawmakers in Kosovo on Friday rejected Western pressure to create a special court to try ethnic Albanian ex-guerrillas for alleged crimes including organ harvesting during a 1998-99 insurgency to throw off Serbian rule.
The parliament vote, which fell five votes short, represents a major snub to Kosovo's chief financial and political backers in the United States and European Union, which have lobbied hard for the young country to address the accusations.
For several years, the now-disbanded guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army has been dogged by allegations it removed organs from ethnic Serb captives, who were then killed and their organs sold on the black market.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority and its leaders, many of them former KLA fighters, angrily reject the accusations as an attempt to tarnish an insurgency that won NATO air support in 1999 to drive out Serbian forces under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic and halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians.
Bowing to Western pressure, the government has searched for months for the votes to amend the constitution to allow for the creation of a court that would have been located in the Netherlands due to concerns over witness intimidation and judicial corruption in Kosovo.
The United States and European Union have warned that Kosovo's failure to create the court risks seeing the issue taken up by the U.N. Security Council and the inevitable involvement of Serbia's big-power ally Russia, which opposes Kosovo sovereignty.
"We have nothing to hide," Foreign Minister and former guerrilla commander Hashim Thaci told Friday's debate.
"We have two options: to create this court ourselves, together with the EU and U.S., and to end this issue once and for all in three to five years; or we fail and it will go to the U.N. Security Council where the court will be created by the opponents of Kosovo independence and will last 15 to 20 years."
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has been recognized by over 100 states. Serbia rejects its secession.
The motion was backed by 75 deputies in the 125-seat parliament, short of a two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution.
The EU envoy to Kosovo, Samuel Zbogar, told reporters: "We are very disappointed with this decision but we have to respect it."
Opposition lawmaker Glauk Konjufca told parliament: "This court will rewrite history. This court gives the impression the Albanians committed crimes, that we were the aggressors."