Serbia warns France over extradition of Kosovo ex-premier

January 13, 2017
Former prime minister of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj, second right, leaves the court escorted by hooded police officers in Colmar, eastern France, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. A French court has ordered the release of a jailed former prime minister of Kosovo pending a decision on whether to extradite him to Serbia, where he's wanted on war crimes charges. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia warned on Friday that it would ignore future possible extradition requests for terrorism and other suspects wanted by France and other European countries if French courts don’t hand over a former Kosovo prime minister.

The Serbian government demanded the “urgent and immediate” extradition of Ramush Haradinaj, who was detained last week in France on a Serbian arrest warrant.

A French court on Thursday ordered the release of Haradinaj pending a decision on whether to extradite him to Serbia, where he’s wanted on war crimes charges. He must stay in France under judicial supervision while his case is being studied.

Serbia’s president, Tomislav Nikolic, said that Haradinaj’s release was the result of EU pressure, signaling the Serbian charges will be rejected.

“I believe the European Union issued such a directive to all member states,” he told Vecernje Novosti newspaper.

Haradinaj, a former guerrilla commander in Kosovo’s 1998-1999 war for independence from Serbia, was cleared of war crimes charges by a U.N. tribunal.

Marko Djuric, head of the Serbian government office for Kosovo, said Serbia would retaliate not only against France, but all the countries that have been ignoring Serbian extradition requests.

“This does not refer only to France, but also to Slovenia, Switzerland and other countries who have released others who are charged with similar crimes, and all that for political reasons,” Djuric said.

The French Foreign Ministry wouldn’t comment on the warning from Serbia, saying it’s a judicial matter.

Haradinaj’s French lawyer, Rachel Lindon, said the release “is the best decision we can have at this stage.”

“It’s a first step” in his fight against Serbia’s renewed effort to try him, she said.

Lindon said Haradinaj is living in an apartment in Strasbourg pending the extradition decision, which could take weeks. The next hearing date has not yet been set, she said.

France and most European countries recognized Kosovo’s independence after it seceded from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia and its Slavic ally Russia did not. Haradinaj’s arrest has further strained tense Serbia-Kosovo relations.

Serbia is formally seeking European Union membership, but has been sliding toward Russia, which wants it to remain its strategic partner in the volatile Balkan region.

In front of the French Embassy in Belgrade, a Serbian nationalist organization has displayed a series of photos what it claims are Serbian civilians and soldiers who died in Kosovo during the 1998-99 ethnic Albanian uprising against Serbian rule, a NATO intervention that stopped the Serbian crackdown against the separatists.


Angela Charlton contributed from Paris.