Kosovo Ex-Guerillas Protest against War Crimes Court
Some 1,000 Kosovo Albanians, mostly veterans of the 1990s war with Serbia, protested Wednesday against the creation of a special court that would handle war crimes allegedly committed by former ethnic Albanian guerrillas.
"History shows that there are no crimes when a nation fights for freedom," Xhavit Jashari, a veteran leader, told the protesters who gathered in front of the government and parliament buildings in the capital Pristina.
"The deputies have the political and moral obligation to vote against this court," he said.
The crowd chanted "No to Injustice" and "UCK, UCK" -- the Albanian acronym for the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a pro-independence ethnic Albanian rebel movement that fought Serbian forces during the 1998-1999 war.
The protesters also carried photos of two former high-ranking KLA officers -- Sylejman Selimi and Sami Lushtaku.
Both men were sentenced in Kosovo in May by a European Union-run court along with nine other former guerrillas to up to 12 years in jail for crimes during the war.
Kosovo's lawmakers were to meet earlier this month to amend the constitution in order to pave the way for the implementation of the parliamentary decision on the court's creation, adopted in April 2014, but the session was adjourned.
Pristina had been under pressure from the European Union to create the special court ever since a 2011 Council of Europe report alleged crimes including abductions, summary executions and -- most controversially -- the trafficking of prisoners' organs by KLA members during the war.
The report by the Council's special rapporteur Dick Marty said the KLA had abused, tortured and killed 500 prisoners, mostly ethnic Serbs and Roma.
The new tribunal would be part of the Kosovo judicial system, but sensitive proceedings would be handled abroad, most likely in an EU member state.
The KLA guerrillas are still considered heroes among Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanian population of almost two million.
The 1998-1999 war ended with a NATO-led air campaign that forced Serbian forces to withdraw from the territory in June 1999.
Kosovo unilaterally proclaimed independence in 2008, in a move that Serbia still refuses to recognize.