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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March 2005, 10:17 GMT
Indicted PM still Kosovo 'hero'
The BBC's Nick Hawton travelled to western Kosovo and the homeland of the ex-Kosovo Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, to see how local people viewed his indictment by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Kysmet Kadrijaj at the protest in Decani
Mr Haradinaj remains a hero for many Kosovo Albanians

"Just as Ramush Haradinaj protected us during the war, so we want to protect him now," says Kysmet Kadrijaj, 28.

He was among 2,000 or so protesters who

braved freezing temperatures and a snowstorm to show their support for their prime minister, indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

"We know he is innocent. The Hague has made a mistake. The international community helped us in the past but now they are taking away our best people," Mr Kadrijaj told me in the small town of Decani, where Mr Haradinaj grew up.

As the protest was taking place, the Hague tribunal was publishing the indictment against Mr Haradinaj. It charges him on 37 counts for crimes ranging from murder to rape, allegedly committed by forces under his command during the 1998-99 conflict against Serb security forces.

"My father and grandfather died during the war. The rest of my family and myself would not be here if Ramush Haradinaj and his fighters had not protected us," said Asim Cenaj, 20, a student at the local college and another of the protesters in Decani.

Contrasting views

Ramush Haradinaj is a hero for many Kosovo Albanians. The guerrilla leader turned prime minister, who commanded the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in this region, is seen as one of the few leaders who was able to stand up to the Serbs during the war.

During the war he was a very good leader
Rame Ukaj,
KLA war invalids' spokesman

Prosecutors at The Hague have a different view.

The indictment states that "the KLA forces under the command and control of Ramush Haradinaj, including a unit called the 'Black Eagles', harassed, beat or otherwise drove Serbian civilian and Roma/Egyptian civilians out of villages, and killed those civilians that remained behind or had refused to abandon their homes."

Mr Haradinaj, who voluntarily surrendered to The Hague on Wednesday, denies all the charges.

Security alert

Since the indictment was issued, the Nato-led peacekeepers in Kosovo, K-For, have beefed up their presence and set up extra checkpoints to deter any violent reaction.

The Kosovo conflict ended when Serb forces were driven out by a Nato bombing campaign. The UN now runs the province.

Kosovo map
"He's a really good man. During the war he was a very good leader," says Rame Ukaj, 35, Chairman of the KLA War Invalids Association in the nearby town of Pec (Peja in Albanian).

"He was very kind with the population. If he met a child in the street he would greet him and talk to him. He didn't remove himself because he was a general.

"All these extra security measures and searches of former KLA fighters are a provocation. These provocations are not taking us forward, but backwards," says Mr Ukaj, who fought with Mr Haradinaj during the conflict.

In the back streets of Pec (Peja), Mr Haradinaj's political party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), is angered about the indictment but believes he will prove his innocence in court.

"The indictment is a great injustice to him. He is innocent," says Dr Ali Berisha, 42, Chairman of the local AAK branch.

"This has been cooked up by Belgrade and the so-called evidence for the indictment provided by Belgrade. But for the sake of the future, and because Mr Haradinaj wants us to, we should remain calm at this time," he said.

Ramush Haradinaj protests his innocence

Profile: Ramush Haradinaj
08 Mar 05 |  Europe
Regions and territories: Kosovo
08 Mar 05 |  Country profiles
Unmik and Serbia discuss Kosovo
17 Jan 05 |  Europe
Text: Interview with Kosovo PM
17 Jan 05 |  Europe


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