FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 21, 2019 file photo, Kosovo president Hashim Thaci gestures during a press conference in Kosovo capital Pristina. Kosovo’s president and nine other former separatist fighters were indicted on a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes charges, including murder, by a court investigating crimes against ethnic Serbs during and after Kosovo’s 1998-99 independence war with Serbia, it was reported on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu, File)

Kosovo's indicted president withdraws from White House talks

June 24, 2020 - 12:51 pm

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo's president has pulled out of a White House meeting with Serbian officials set for Saturday following his indictment on crimes against humanity and war crimes charges.

U.S. presidential envoy Richard Grenell, who invited Kosovar and Serbian officials to meet in Washington to jump start their stalled peace talks, tweeted that Kosovo President Hashim Thaci decided to postpone his trip to Washington.

Grenell wrote: "I respect his decision not to attend the discussions until the legal issues of those allegations are settle.”

The discussions will proceed and be led by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti, the U.S. envoy said. Grenell said.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo’s president and nine other former separatist fighters were indicted on a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes charges, including murder, by a court investigating crimes against ethnic Serbs, Albanians and Roma during and after Kosovo’s 1998-99 independence war with Serbia.

A statement from a prosecutor of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers issued Wednesday said President Hashim Thaci and the others suspects “are criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders” of political opponents and Kosovar Albanian, Serb and Roma victims.

Other charges include enforced disappearance, persecution, and torture. Thaci commanded fighters in the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, during the war.

The president's advisers did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. Before the indictment, Thaci planned to attend a White House meeting with Serbia’s leaders on Saturday aimed at securing a peace agreement between Serbia and Kosovo.

He already has left Kosovo, but it wasn't clear what the charges may mean for his trip to Washington.

Thaci, 52, was elected president in February 2016 and his term ends next year. He previously served as prime minister, deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

The indicted individuals also include Kadri Veseli, former parliament speaker and leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo. Thaci resigned as the party's leader when he became president, leaving the post to Veseli.

The indictment issued Wednesday was the first by the special tribunal based in The Hague. The court has been operating since 2015 and has questioned hundreds of witnesses. Kosovo’s prime minister resigned last year before he was questioned. Veseli also has been questioned, but not Thaci.

The indictment is being reviewed by a pretrial judge who will decide whether to confirm the charges, according to the statement.

The prosecutor filed the indictment following a lengthy investigation and it reflects his “determination that it can prove all of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt," the statement said.

The prosecutor also accused Thaci and Veseli of repeated efforts “to obstruct and undermine the work" of the tribunal.

“Thaci and Veseli are believed to have carried out a secret campaign to overturn the law creating the Court and otherwise obstruct the work of the Court in an attempt to ensure that they do not face justice,” the statement said.

“By taking these actions, Mr. Thaci and Mr. Veseli have put their personal interests ahead of the victims of their crimes, the rule of law, and all people of Kosovo,” it added.

Kosovo politicians resisted and resented the scrutiny of the war crimes court, repeatedly noting that Serb troops committed massacres and other atrocities during the war that went unpunished.

The 1998-1999 war left more than 10,000 dead and 1,641 are still unaccounted for. It ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign.

Kosovo is a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008, a move Serbia does not recognize. Tensions between the two countries remain high. European Union-facilitated negotiations to normalize their relations started in March 2011 and has produced some 30 agreements, most of which were not observed.

The White House meeting was set to be the first talks between the two sides in 19 months.

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Semini reported from Tirana, Albania. Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade.

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