June 25, 2020 / 8:01 AM / 21 days ago

Kosovo scraps White House talks with Serbia after leader indicted

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo’s prime minister said on Thursday his government would not attend U.S.-mediated talks with Serbia planned for the weekend at the White House after Kosovo’s president was indicted for alleged war crimes.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. special envoy Richard Grenell is welcomed by Kosovo President Hashim Thaci in Pristina, Kosovo, October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Laura Hasani

A special prosecutor’s office dealing with the period of Kosovo’s 1998-99 guerrilla uprising against Serbian rule said on Wednesday it had charged President Hashim Thaci at a Hague court over crimes including nearly 100 murders.

Thaci and Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti had been due to meet with a Serbian delegation for the first round of U.S.-brokered negotiations aimed at normalising relations.

“Because of the new developments..., I have to return to Pristina to deal with the situation,” Hoti wrote on his Facebook page. Hoti, who was due in Brussels on Friday to meet European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said he had informed U.S. mediator Richard Grenell.

There was no immediate reaction from Belgrade on whether their delegation would also cancel. President Aleksandar Vucic was also due to meet von der Leyen on Friday.

“Thank you, Prime Minister Hoti. We understand your decision and we look forward to re-scheduling the meeting soon,” Grenell tweeted on Thursday.

Serbia does not recognise its former breakaway province, which became independent in 2008. Both parties committed to an EU-sponsored dialogue in 2011 but little progress has been made.

“What is important for us is to focus on the EU-facilitated dialogue. We still think the dialogue should resume in July (in Brussels),” EU spokesman Peter Stano said.

Thaci, a former senior commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), has not responded to Wednesday’s indictment in public but has previously denied involvement in any war crimes.

The Hague-based Specialist Chamber was set up in 2015 to handle cases of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by the KLA during the war that led to Kosovo’s independence.

Though a Kosovo court, it is financed by the EU and sits in the Netherlands partly to help ensure protection of witnesses.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina with additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Mark Heinrich

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