PRISTINA (Reuters) - Any move by Kosovo to scrap a war crimes court linked to its independence struggle would seriously undermine relations with friendly western nations, its main backer the United States said on Friday.
Lawmakers from the governing coalition, who hold a majority, are pressing for a vote to abolish the court. The vote was scheduled for later in the day but it failed twice due to opposition from other parties.
Parliament speaker Kadri Veseli said parliament would continue to attempt to vote on the issue in the coming days.
Isa Mustafa, Kosovo’s former prime minister and an opposition leader, said the proposal was “devastating for our state and very damaging for justice”.
The Specialist Chamber was established in The Hague in 2015 to bring to justice Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas alleged to have committed atrocities during the 1998-99 war that led to the country’s secession from Serbia. It has yet to hear any cases.
Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, President Hashim Thaci and parliamentary speaker Veseli are former KLA commanders.
The court’s judges and prosecutors are foreign but it has been set up under Kosovan law, giving Pristina jurisdiction over it.
Calling for the parliamentary vote to be halted, U.S. ambassador Greg Delawie said it would have “extraordinarily negative implications” for Kosovo.
“It is just a disgrace,” he told reporters in Pristina. “This will be considered by the U.S. as stab in the back. Kosovo will be choosing isolation instead of cooperation.”
There was no immediate response from Kosovo officials to Delawie’s comments. Washington has been Kosovo’s leading political and financial backer since it declared independence in 2008.
Nataliya Apostolova, the EU representative in Pristina, called the attempt to scrap the court “appalling and extremely damaging”.
The court was set up following U.S. and European pressure on the government to confront alleged KLA crimes against ethnic Serbs.
According to Kosovo media, the court could indict or call as witnesses some of current government officials. It was set up in the Netherlands to minimize the risk of witness intimidation and judicial corruption.
Kosovo’s war veterans’ association last week launched an initiative to hold a parliamentary debate to abolish the law that established the court. They gathered 15,000 signatures, Kosovo media reported.
NATO air strikes on Serbia forced Belgrade to withdraw its troops from Kosovo in 1999, having killed around 10,000 Albanian civilians. NATO has around 5,000 troops stationed in Kosovo to keep a still fragile peace.
Kosovo, which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian and 5 percent Serbian, is recognized by more than 110 mainly by western countries but not by Serbia’s key ally Russia or China.
Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; editing by John Stonestreet and Robin Pomeroy