A court in the French town of Colmar has released former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj on bail, on the condition that he stays in France. Haradinaj must appear before the French authorities twice a week, pending a ruling on whether to extradite him to Serbia.
Haradinaj’s detention on a Serbian arrest warrant has inflamed tensions in the Western Balkans. Belgrade wants the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander tried for war crimes against Serb civilians committed in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999. However, ethnic Albanians across the region have launched a series of protests demanding his release and claiming his innocence. He was previously cleared of war crimes charges in two trials by a UN war crimes tribunal in 2008 and 2012.
The latest ruling overturns a previous court decision saying that Haradinaj had to remain in police custody following his arrest on January 4. Although he has been released, Haradinaj must surrender his passport and will not be allowed to return to Kosovo before the court’s ruling on his extradition, according to newswire reports.
In a statement issued shortly after the court decision, the Kosovan government welcomed Haradinaj’s release. Pristina also reiterated its position that the Serbian arrest warrant was “totally illegal, unjust and with a clear tendency to create tensions and conflicts”.
However, Haradinaj’s party, the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), said on its Facebook page that justice would not be fully done until its leader was allowed to return to his home country. The party called on the French justice system to end any measures against Haradinaj, but also urged his supporters to remain “civilised”.
On January 11, ethnic Albanians protested in Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo to demand the release of the former Kosovan prime minister. The protests took place the day after the Serbian justice ministry sent a request to France for Haradinaj's extradition, and the day before he was due to appear in court.
The Serbian government reacted with disappointment to the news of Haradinaj's release. Serbian Labour Minister Aleksandar Vulin said on January 12 that Haradinaj should not have been released from custody. The minister told Serbian news agency Tanjug, “Haradinaj’s release, and even temporary freedom, is not good news. Especially for the families of his victims.”
Both Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic have previously said they have no plans to allow the case against the former Kosovan prime minister to be dropped.
Previously, Tanjug said quoting the justice ministry that the Serbian Prosecutor's Office for war crimes had sent an order expanding the investigation into Haradinaj to the ministry. This reportedly includes new evidence that will be sent to France by the end of the week.
The former KLA commander for western Kosovo, Haradinaj briefly served as prime minister between December 2004 and March 2005, but stepped down after he was charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
In 2015, he was arrested in Slovenia, but quickly released following diplomatic pressure.