PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo’s parliament voted to change the constitution on Monday and create a war crimes court, which the West wants to try ethnic Albanian former guerrillas for alleged war crimes including organ harvesting.
The vote was held just one month after parliament first tried to approve the creation of the court, seen by many Kosovo Albanians as an attempt to tarnish their 1998-99 guerrilla war against Serbian rule.
The constitutional changes were endorsed by 82 deputies in the 120-seat parliament.
“Finding the truth about some allegations from during and after the war is a challenge that we have to deal with,” Prime Minister Isa Mustafa told legislators before the vote.
The now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which counts among its former ranks much of Kosovo’s current political elite, has been dogged for years by allegations it removed organs from ethnic Serb captives, who were then killed and their organs sold on the black market.
Kosovo’s chief diplomatic and financial backers, the United States and the European Union, have pressed Kosovo to address the accusations.
They said that failure to create the court risks seeing the issue taken up by the United Nations Security Council and the inevitable involvement of Serbia’s big-power ally Russia, which opposes Kosovo sovereignty.
Later in the day the parliament passed a law to create special court chambers and the prosecution office. The parliament also approved a new law to finance defense for all people that may be charged by the court but it remains unclear when the first indictments will be filed.
After a decade of passive resistance, the KLA took up arms against forces of the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic in the late 1990s, eventually winning NATO air support to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has been recognized by over 100 states, but not by Serbia or Russia.
The new court will be located in the Netherlands, due to concerns over witness intimidation and judicial corruption in Kosovo.
Former prime minister and wartime KLA commander, Ramush Haradinaj, was among those in parliament who opposed the court.
“By approving this court we are turning ourselves into a monster. During the war we were not monsters, we were victims,” said Haradinaj, who now heads the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo.
The new court will be under Kosovo law but financed by the European Union and all prosecutors and judges will be foreigners.
The embassies of the EU member states and United States welcomed the vote.
“By dealing with its past and ensuring justice for the victims, Kosovo can achieve reconciliation and build a better future,” the embassies said in a joint statement.
Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Andrew Hay