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Kosovo to review ties with Serbia after ex-PM’s arrest

Protesters hold a combined US and Albanian flag and placards during a protest by Kosovo Albanians in front of the French Embassy in Pristina on Friday. (AFP)
PRISTINA/BELGRADE: Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj said on Friday his country had retaliated against neighboring Serbia and would do so again after an ex-prime minister was arrested in France on a warrant issued by Belgrade.
The arrest on Wednesday of Ramush Haradinaj, a guerrilla commander in the 1998-99 war against Serbian rule who served briefly as prime minister in 2004 and 2005, has heightened tensions between the Balkan neighbors.
Kosovo accused Serbia of wanting to provoke “tensions and conflicts” in the Balkans, following the arrest in France of its former premier.
Belgrade accuses Haradinaj of war crimes against civilians in the late 1990s, when he led ethnic Albanian insurgents fighting Serbian forces for Kosovo’s independence.
Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008. Both states want to join the European Union membership but Brussels says they must normalize relations before their applications can go ahead. Kosovo opposition parties have called for their EU-mediated dialogue to be halted.
“Yesterday we took reciprocal measures with Nikolic (and) we will do that again in the future,” Hoxhaj told reporters in Pristina. “There has to be a revision of our relations with Serbia and a revision of the dialogue.”
Also on Friday, ethnic Albanian protesters in the western town of Gjakova — mostly families of those killed by Serb forces during the 1998-99 conflict — stoned a bus that was carrying ethnic Serb pilgrims marking Orthodox Christmas Eve.
Hoxhaj said Serbia had issued more international arrest warrants for Kosovo citizens, limiting their travel abroad.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state and together with its ally Russia is blocking Pristina’s efforts to join the United Nations and other international institutions.
Haradinaj, who appeared before a French court on Thursday, will remain in prison until Serbia makes a formal extradition order, which will then be examined by the court.
Serbia has charged Haradinaj with murdering Serbs in the late 1990s war. That conflict ended after NATO bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to compel it to withdraw forces that had killed some 10,000 members of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority in counter-insurgency operations.
Thousands of Haradinaj’s party supporters gathered in front of the French Embassy in Pristina on Friday holding US and Albanian flags under heavy snow. “Do not offend Kosovo” one banner read.
The government is calling on French authorities to release the former prime minister who has been detained facing possible extradition to Serbia to face war crimes charges.
A French court Thursday ruled that Haradinaj, detained a day earlier, should stay in custody until it decides whether to turn him over to Serbian officials.
Kosovo Prime Minister Isa Mustafa on Friday urged “the French government to take into consideration that such warrants are fully political and have no legal or juridical base.”
France’s Foreign Ministry has refused to comment on Kosovo’s call for Haradinaj’s release.
Twice tried and acquitted, Haradinaj was detained on Wednesday as he arrived at the Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg airport, located near the Swiss and German borders, under an international arrest warrant issued by Serbia’s judiciary in 2004.

At a Cabinet meeting on Friday, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Isa Mustafa expressed “the government’s concern over this arrest and the judicial proceedings.”
Belgrade’s motivations are “political and unfriendly,” Mustafa said, adding that such arrest warrants were “completely illegal and unjust” with the consequence of “provoking tensions and conflicts, and damaging the European (integration) process in the region.”
Some 13,000 people were killed in the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that is largely ethnic Albanian.
In 2008 Kosovo unilaterally declared independence but its sovereignty is not recognized by Belgrade or Moscow.
A European-Union brokered agreement was reached in 2013 to “normalize” relations between Belgrade and Pristina.
The normalization process is opposed by Haradinaj but backed by his former companion in arms, President Hashim Thaci.
Briefly prime minister in 2004-2005, Haradinaj now leads an opposition political party.
On Friday, several hundred war veterans protested against his arrest in front of the French embassy in Pristina, carrying banners reading: “Haradinaj is Kosovo” and “Seek criminals in Serbia.”
“We are protesting against France for carrying out Serbian arrest orders. We expect France to release him as soon as possible,” said former pro-independence fighter Binak Sylaj, 44.
On Twitter, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama described the arrest of Haradinaj as an “absurdity.”
The French court says it is awaiting the formal extradition request from Serbia before it sets a date for a hearing.
Haradinaj, 48, a guerrilla fighter in Kosovo’s 1998-1999 war for independence from Serbia and now an opposition political leader, is accused by Serbia of committing kidnappings, torture and killings against Serb civilians when he was a senior rebel commander in western Kosovo.
Hundreds of former Kosovo guerrilla fighters and supporters from opposition parties staged a protest outside the French embassy to call for Haradinaj’s release.
In Belgrade, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday expressed hope France would extradite Haradinaj and would not let politics override legal matters.
In a message Friday on Facebook, Haradinaj deplored that France would “still respect decisions of (Slobodan) Milosevic’s former regime.”
Haradinaj was cleared of war crimes charges in two lengthy trials by a UN war crimes tribunal. Two years ago Haradinaj was detained in Slovenia at Belgrade’s request, but later released.
“I have a message for Serbia’s friends within Kosovo and abroad: Kosovo’s road to statehood cannot be stopped by anyone,” he said.
Mustafa said the government is planning to take measures if “Serbia, misusing the international law and order mechanism, continues the application of such politically unacceptable and immoral acts to Kosovo’s activists and fighters for freedom.”