As his trial opened at The Hague March 5, Former Kosova prime minister Ramush Haradinaj pleaded not guilty to charges of war crimes stemming from his time as a regional commander of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA). Standing trial with him are Idriz Balaj, the commander of the “Black Eagles,” a special unit of the KLA, and Lahi Brahimaj, Haradinaj’s uncle and a close associate. “These three men come before you accused of crimes—ugly, cruel, and violent crimes,” Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte told the court in her opening statement. “Be in no doubt that this warlord, his lieutenant and his jailer have blood on their hands.” The high-profile trial comes at a sensitive time for Kosova, as a controversial UN plan proposing limited independence for the province is drawing widespread protest. Last month, Haradinaj called for patience during the negotiations. (EuroNews, Boston Globe, March 7)
A March 3 rally in Pristina by ethnic Albanian opponents of the UN’s plan for the province did not result in a repeat of the violence that left two protesters dead on Feb. 10. Local media put the number of protesters at around 4,000, more than the 3,000 who attended the Feb. 10 protest. The UN police force this time did not raise barriers along the protest route, and the protesters made no attempt to storm government buildings, as police say they tried to on Feb. 10. The KosovaPress news agency reported that demonstrators threatened to break through a police cordon around the headquarters of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). The organizers, the Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) movement, on March 2 warned they would try to break through any cordons placed by the police. Radio-Television Kosova reported on March 2 that a leader of a Vetevendosje branch in eastern Kosova was arrested that day. In the run-up to the rally, Macedonia tightened its borders with Kosova in an attempt to prevent ethnic Albanians joining the Prishtina rally. The deaths at the February 10 rally triggered the resignations of Kosova’s interior minister and the UN police chief, and an investigation into the matter is still underway. Earlier warnings that violence could jeopardize Kosova’s bid for independence were underlined by President Fatmir Sejdiu in a televised address on March 1, in which he urged Kosovars not to take part in the rally.
During the rally itself, a Vetevendosje leader, Glauk Konjufca, accused President Sejdiu of “servility toward foreign forces.” He also attacked the plan proposed by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari as an attempt to maintain international control of Kosova and a capitulation to “Serbian plans for the partition of Kosova.” Said Konjufca: “We are hostages of Serbia. We are hostages of just 5 percent of the population.” Serbs are usually said constitute 10% of Kosova’s population. Konjufca also protested against the treatment of activists arrested at the Feb. 10 rally, including the movement’s leader, Albin Kurti, saying they face “frequent provocations” such as being “offered meals containing Serbian produce.” (RFE/RL, March 5)