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Europe

Kosovo report casts dark shadow over leader's wartime past

The Council of Europe is gearing up Thursday to endorse a new report by its special rapporteur accusing leaders of the tiny Balkan nation of Kosovo of serious human rights violations after the 1998-99 Kosovo War.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci

Thaci was a leader in the Kosovo Liberation Army

The Council of Europe shone a bright light on the young republic of Kosovo this week, with a damning report accusing its leadership of having been at the helm of criminal acts after the country's war of independence from Serbia in the late 1990s.

The report, compiled by special Council rapporteur Dick Marty, implicates incumbent Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and other former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in organ and drug trafficking during and after the Kosovo War.

It argues that Thaci was a mafia-style boss who helped set up and run some of these networks. It also links former KLA leaders with organized crime groups in Kosovo and in neighboring Albania, and says they were implicit in assassinations and beatings.

The Council of Europe is an independent organization with 47 member states that works alongside the European Union. It has a particular emphasis on European integration, human rights and democratic development.

Naturally, the Kosovo government has denied the allegations, threatening legal and political action in response.

Tainted leadership?

The grave of a person killed in the Kosovo War in central Kosovo

Many thousands were killed in the Kosovo War

Focus in the matter has now shifted to how the Marty report might affect Thaci's leadership of the small nation, and the status of its fragile independence.

Foreign affairs expert Dusan Reljic of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs says this is not the first time these kinds of accusations have been leveled against Kosovo leaders like Prime Minister Thaci.

"The current wisdom was that a lot of the leading politicians in Kosovo and in the region were part of the problem," Reljic told Deutsche Welle.

"So in the case of Prime Minister Thaci, again and again there have been not only rumors, but accusations in the public, also in some confidential reports to certain governments … in which he was linked to organized crime and also with this terrible case of harvesting human organs."

Many Kosovo observers say the report isn't likely to affect the tiny country's hopes of eventually joining the European Union, which is decades away if at all. But Reljic says that if Dick Marty's report is endorsed by the Council of Europe it could greatly complicate Kosovo's relations with the western nations that underpin its independence.

"After this uproar in the international media, it will certainly be more difficult to maintain … that Mr. Thaci contributes to stability in the region," Reljic said. "But whether western powers will drop him will very much depend on their analysis of the situation and whether they see other political actors, political leaders in Kosovo who could take over in the government."

Secretive past

Kosovo women walk in the main square decorated with flags for the anniversary of Kosovo's independence

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in early 2008

Lawrence Marzouk, who is based in Pristina as Kosovo editor for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, said neither the Kosovo government, opposition groups nor civil society have scrambled to address the contents of the report, which, he said, are sensitive matters for most Kosovo Albanians.

"It's that it remains an incredibly taboo issue that people don't want to talk about, mainly because of this status that the Kosovo Liberation Army obviously has in Kosovo, as freedom fighters, as liberators," he told Deutsche Welle. "There is still an enormous amount of respect for these people who fought to free Kosovo."

Marzouk adds that investigators faced an uphill battle to force a rethink of the KLA's actions during the war.

"The line from the KLA has always been that they fought a clean war, and that there was no wrong-doing, and that's a line that most people take publically."

Dick Marty's 27-page report will be presented to the Council of Europe's legal affairs committee on Thursday for adoption. If it is endorsed, it will then be up for debate at the next Parliamentary Assembly in January. Kosovo's EU justice mission, meanwhile, has already announced it would examine the allegations.

Such momentum could heap more pressure on Hashim Thaci and the Kosovo government, and perhaps force a rethink of the country's wartime past.

Author: Darren Mara
Editor: Rob Turner

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