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‘Independence the only solution for Kosovo,’ says Hashim Thaci

As June approaches and with it the deadline for the international community’s decision as to whether Kosovo fulfills the criteria set out by the UN Security Council for talks to begin on the southern Serbian province’s final status, the political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army and now opposition leader Hashim Thaci sees a threat to the democratic regime by organized political and economic crime. In this interview with Kathimerini, he refers to paramilitary organizations linked with President Ibrahim Rugova and his government, which, by using blackmail, threats, bomb attacks and attempted murder, are trying to manipulate political life and the economy of Kosovo. However, he believes that the international community will approve the way conditions are being fulfilled with regard to its status. He reiterated that he feels independence is the only solution for Kosovo that will bring peace to the area. Recently there have been events in Kosovo that have given the international community cause for concern, including the attack on President Rugova and the murder last week of the brother of former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj. How do you see the situation? It is true that the situation is worrying. I believe that these violent acts are being directed from a specific center and we, the Democratic Party, have repeatedly expressed our concerns about organized political and financial crime, and within the government as well. The law needs to be imposed, it is time for the blackmailers and other criminals to be brought to trial. What is that center you mention – is it the «Security for the Homeland» group you recently made accusations against in Parliament? There are well-founded suspicions that this organization is directly linked with the leader of the «Kosovo League» party. It is good that the prosecutors have begun an investigation into the government of Kosovo. We want to establish a democratic regime on the Western model and not a state where corruption and crime prevail. What are this organization’s goals? First of all they want to have a say in Kosovo’s economy, its institutions and to impose illegality. That is why they are blackmailing people and exerting pressure, issuing threats, setting bombs and, above all, trying to annihilate the opposition. The attempted murder of (moderate party leader Veton) Surroi was a political act, as Surroi was openly backing the Democratic Party’s charges of corruption and crime. The opposition’s political stand is being attacked with bombs. So is there a kind of para-state trying to impose its own laws to serve its own interests? These are paramilitary organizations. Do you feel that the democratic regime is under threat? Both I, as opposition leader, and every citizen of Kosovo, are concerned about organized crime infiltrating the government. Already investigations have begun into (the activities of) four ministers. Given the situation, what progress is being made in implementing the international community’s criteria for talks on Kosovo’s final status, one of which is the smooth functioning of the democratic system? Unfortunately, we have the weakest government in Europe. We are the poorest country with the largest percentage of unemployed. The functioning of democratic institutions in Kosovo is in crisis, and the rule of law is doubtful. Nevertheless, the international community has made a positive evaluation. My concern, nevertheless, is centered on the kind of state we want to build. Do we want a democratic state or one where anarchy prevails? Do you agree with Rugova’s refusal to reply to Serbian President Boris Tadic’s invitation for talks in Belgrade? Goodwill meetings have to take place at the right time. Contacts should be made with all neighbors on matters of mutual interest. Last week the foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro, Vuk Draskovic, said his country’s position on Kosovo’s final status was «something less than independence, something more than autonomy.» What is your comment? There is only one solution for Kosovo: an independent state linked with Euro-Atlantic institutions. What is your reply to those who claim that independence for Kosovo means that soon or later it will unite with the ethnic Albanian provinces of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia? Kosovo will be an independent state that will respect the territorial integrity of its neighbors, that will not want to change borders but naturally will be linked to Europe. The founding of the independent state of Kosovo is in the interest of all states in the region. Do you think a solution with which the Serbs do not agree can be viable? The state of Kosovo will not be just for its Albanians but for all its citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origins. Kosovo will be multiethnic with a democratic government. What would you do if you were in the position of Ramush Haradinaj, accused of war crimes. Would you go to The Hague of your own accord? Kosovars have set an example in cooperating with the international justice system. The Albanians of Kosovo have not committed any crimes. The KLA was waging a liberation struggle, it respected the rules of war. I think Haradinaj’s cooperation is positive, but I am convinced of his innocence. May I assume that you would do the same? The Albanians have not committed crimes in the war.