|Haradinaj in court in France. Photo: Beta/AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias.|
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Thursday that the French court in Colmar made a political decision to turn down Serbia’s extradition request for former Kosovo Prime Minister and ex- Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla Ramush Haradinaj, who is wanted by Belgrade on war crimes charges.
“The Serbian government considers this decision disgraceful, scandalous, unlawful, and above all else, political,” Vucic said after an extraordinary government session called to discuss Haradinaj’s release.
Vucic claimed that the French court justified its decision by saying that extradition “could have dire consequences” for Haradinaj.
“It would have been funny if it wasn’t tragic. We didn’t call him over to eat chocolate, but to answer for his crimes,” Vucic said.
Vucic added that he will speak with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the case, but insisted that Serbia will not change its policy and will stay “on the European path” despite the French ruling.
The appeals court in the French town of Colmar rejected Serbia’s extradition request for Haradinaj on Thursday morning.
Haradinaj has twice been acquitted by the Hague-based court for the former Yugoslavia of committing war crimes during the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict.
However Serbian officials insist that they have evidence that he was involved in other war crimes for which he has not yet been prosecuted.
They say he is suspected of the murders of civilians, including the killing of a two-week-old baby, torture, and the rape of a minor.
Politicians from the Serbian ruling coalition also condemned the French court’s decision as political.
“There is no doubt anymore that international courts are made for Serbs alone,” said Dragan Markovic of the United Serbia party.
Serbian tabloid media also reacted with outrage, with some newspapers calling Haradinaj a “butcher” and a “criminal”.
The director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, Milan Antonijevic, told Beta news agency that Serbia should consider charging Haradinaj before Kosovo’s newly-founded Special Court, which will try ex-guerrillas for wartime crimes.
“I hope that the [Serbian] state will respond constructively and consider cooperating with the Special Court, thus returning this story to where it belongs, which is the courthouse,” Antonijevic said.
The European Parliament’s vice-president and standing rapporteur for relations with Kosovo, Ulrike Lunacek, welcomed the French court’s decision, however.
“Keeping up an outdated international arrest warrant from 2004 (!) by Serbia, which is in an EU-moderated dialogue with Kosovo, is totally unacceptable,” Lunacek said in a statement.
She said that the withdrawal of such old arrest warrants for Kosovo Liberation Army ex-fighters was “an important condition to continue the EU-mediated dialogue process between Belgrade and Pristina according to the principle of good neighbourly relations”.
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci has also welcomed the court ruling.
“Once again it has been proved that the defamations of the Serbian [security] services against the Kosovo Liberation Army are unreliable and are not respected by the democratic world,” Thaci wrote on Facebook.
Haradinaj’s arrest at a French airport after he flew in from Kosovo in January heightened tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.
It also sparked protests by Albanians both inside and outside Kosovo, calling for his release and condemning the arrest as a political act.