This story originated in VOA’s Albanian service.
PRISTINA, KOSOVO — Kosovo’s outgoing Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj is calling on the international community, the United States and the European Union to stop pressuring his country to remove tariffs against Serbia as a precondition for negotiations between the countries.
Haradinaj offered his resignation last week before being questioned as a suspect by a special court investigating alleged war crimes by the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
Appearing before prosecutors in The Hague on Wednesday, Haradinaj refused to answer questions. As he left, he said his response was made “at the advice of my lawyer.”
In an exclusive interview with VOA’s Albanian service, his first since returning from the Netherlands, Haradinaj insisted tariffs should remain in place until Serbia recognizes Kosovo.
Haradinaj gained popular support after introducing a 100 percent tax on goods produced in Serbia last November, immediately prompting Belgrade to pull out of talks with Pristina. Many saw the move as a way to block Kosovar President Hashim Thaci and Serbian President Alexandar Vucic from discussing a change of borders as a formula for normalizing relations between the two countries.
Asked if he saw any connection between his insistence on keeping tariffs and the summons from the special court in The Hague, Haradinaj said that “he was surprised to be summoned.”
“I have fulfilled the legal obligation to appear as a suspect after being called for questioning,” he said, adding that “there is a lot of suspicion in Kosovo that it can be a conspiracy, but what I can confirm is that I strongly believe in what I have openly and in the most sincere way told the international partners: that Kosovo’s borders are not controversial, and there should be no discussion of territory or borders changes.
“The agreement with Serbia should include mutual recognition within the existing borders, and at the same time free trade must be linked with the recognition,” he told VOA.
The United States and European Union have repeatedly urged Haradinaj to end the tariffs.
“I call upon the international community, our allies, to stop unjust pressure on Kosovo for tariffs as well as other topics, because it is not right to accept Serbia’s conditions for dialogue,” he said.
Haradinaj, who has twice been exonerated by prior trials before the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, then accused the international community of bias.
“I was called for the second time to testify before an international court; I resigned twice because of that, while, on the other hand, Mr. Aleksandar Vucic, who was part of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime — [which] has committed crimes in the Balkans, not only in Kosovo but also in other countries — he has no such concerns.
“This proves an imbalance of international community pressure logic that needs to be corrected as soon as possible.”
Haradinaj first resigned as prime minister in 2005 upon being indicted by the U.N. tribunal, which exonerated him. The same court then tried and acquitted him again in 2012.
His resignation is expected to prompt snap elections. Thaci is expected to start consultations with political parties to find a way out of the new political situation.
On Friday, Philip Kosnett, the U.S. ambassador to Kosovo, tweeted that the United States was “watching closely as Kosovo deals, for the first time, with a PM resignation. How it is handled will indicate the strength of Kosovo’s institutions and officials’ willingness to adhere to the Constitution and laws.”
The Kosovo special court was created on 2015 to investigate alleged war crimes between January 1998 and December 2000. Over a dozen former KLA leaders have been called for questioning in various capacities. So far, no indictments have been issued.