Hashim Thaçi, Kosovo’s president, has resigned to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the war for independence from Serbia between 1998 and 1999.
A guerilla leader in Kosovo’s fight for independence, Thaçi said in a news conference in the capital Pristina on Thursday that he resigned to protect the integrity of the presidency.
The 52-year-old was indicted on 10 counts of war crimes in June by a special court based in The Hague, Netherlands.
Prosecutors said Thaçi, a former member of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), and other former independence fighters are “criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders,” as well as enforced disappearances, persecution and torture, including of political opponents.
Kosovo, which was part of Serbia from 1912, is comprised of mostly ethnic Albanians and enjoyed autonomy from Serbia in the 1980s.
In 1989, following the election of Slobodan Milošević as its president, Serbia sought to bring Kosovo back under its control.
This led to the rise of the KLA, a guerilla group that started attacking Serbian security forces in Kosovo to try to win independence.
Serbia retaliated by sending in more troops to defeat the KLA, displacing thousands of Kosovar Albanians and killing civilians and KLA members.
As attempts at a diplomatic solution failed, NATO intervened and began air strikes against Serbian forces.
The war, which ended with Yugoslav and Serb forces agreeing to withdraw from Kosovo for an international presence, left more than 13,000 dead, mostly Kosovar Albanians killed by Serbian forces.
However, more than 2,000 Serbs, Roma and Kosovar Albanians were killed in NATO bombings and by guerilla groups like the KLA, according to the Humanitarian Law Center.
Although the president is largely a ceremonial role, Thaçi was Kosovo’s first prime minister. He and two other suspects were flown to the Hague on Thursday.