Kosovo court prosecutor stepping down, vows work will go on

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The prosecutor for a special tribunal set up to try crimes committed in the late 1990s in Kosovo announced Thursday he is stepping down, as his term has expired.

But prosecutor David Schwendiman, who joined the Kosovo specialist chambers three years ago, vowed the work of his office to prosecute those behind the crimes would "continue undeterred" after he leaves on March 31.

"No one responsible for the crimes" that occurred "should for one second think that my departure has anything to do with any lack of commitment to the investigation," he insisted in a statement.

"Whoever comes after me will be equally committed to getting the job done right and done well and to getting it done as soon as possible."

The Kosovo specialist chambers, funded by the European Union and set up in The Hague, was established to investigate and prosecute crimes allegedly committed by top members of the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) as it battled Serbian forces in the 1998-1999 war.

The accusations were included in a 2010 report to the Council of Europe, and detail claims of assassinations, unlawful detentions and organ trafficking, during and after the Kosovo guerillas' war of independence.

There has been fierce speculation over who could be targeted by the first indictments, including whether Kosovo's current president Hashim Thaci, the former political leader of KLA, is on the list.

But the court has run up against stiff opposition in Kosovo where the guerrillas who fought for independence from Serbia a decade ago are revered as heroes.

Veterans of the conflict are behind a petition that has gathered 15,000 signatures urging lawmakers to abolish Kosovo's 2015 legislation that established the Hague-based tribunal.

With the court thought to be poised to issue indictments, ruling coalition MPs have twice attempted to repeal the law since December.

Schwendiman, who announced the news just as Kosovo prepares to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its independence on Saturday, said he was saddened that he would leave "without finishing" the task.

He stressed though that he was neither resigning nor had he been relieved of his post.

He said he had been told by the US State Department that his three-year term as a foreign service officer would end on March 31.

"The US administration is unable to overlook my status as a retiree called back into service - something the law won't let me change regardless how much I might want to stay," he said.

The search has already begun for his successor, and in the meantime his deputy Kwai Hong Ip will stand in as acting prosecutor.


© 2018 AFP

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