Hashim Thaci pleads not guilty to war crimes charges in 1990s war against Serbia as he appears at a special international court in The Hague.
Former Kosovo president Hashim Thaci has pleaded not guilty to all war crimes charges brought against him in his first appearance before a judge after being taken into custody in The Hague.
Thaci, who led the guerrilla uprising against Serbian forces in 1998-99 as commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, faces 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"Your honour, the indictment is completely without basis and I plead not guilty," he said on Monday, wearing a blue-grey suit and pink tie as he sat listening to the charges.
Defence lawyer David Hooper said he would request that — Thaci who after resigning as president turned himself into European Union police in Kosovo before he was flown to The Hague — be released pending trial.
Thaci was the political chief of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an ethnic Albanian group that battled Serb forces for the independence of the southern province in a bitter conflict that claimed more than 13,000 lives.
He and three others have been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, torture, illegal detention, enforced disappearances, and persecution, committed between 1998 and 1999.
Thaci resigns as president
The indictment accuses them of "a widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population," including those believed to be collaborating with Serb forces, or not cooperating with the KLA.
Thaci has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence and claims the international system of justice is "rewriting history" over the conflict.
On Thursday he said he was stepping down as president to "protect the integrity" of the office.
Thaci has pledged to cooperate with the tribunal.
His sudden departure could bring political instability to Kosovo, a fledgling democracy where the 52-year-old former guerrilla became its first prime minister upon independence in 2008 and was elected president in 2016.
Prosecutors accuse Thaci of responsibility for nearly 100 murders of civilians during the late 1990s conflict when he led forces in the KLA in a revolt against the security forces of then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
'Injustice has been done'
Former KLA spokesperson Jakup Krasniqi, one of Thaci's co-defendants, pleaded not guilty to the charges when he made his first appearance at the court on Monday.
"It is not right that I am here, an injustice has been done against me," said Krasniqi, 69. a former Kosovar politician who was arrested by armed EU police late Wednesday in Pristina.
"I have never treated people in my life in this way. It was war and we fought against the Serbs who committed genocide in Kosovo," he said, adding that the KLA was in a "joint liberation enterprise" with the United States, NATO and UN.
The other co-defendants are Thaci's closest political ally Kadri Veseli and key KLA figure Rexhep Selimi.
'George Washington of Kosovo'
The bitter conflict killed ethnic Albanian Kosovars for the most part and only ended when a NATO air campaign forced Serb forces to withdraw.
Top Serbian military and police officials were later convicted of war crimes in other international courts.
Thaci downed his guns after the war and joined politics, leading then US vice president Joe Biden to once hail him as the "George Washington of Kosovo."
But rebel leaders of the KLA have also been accused of revenge attacks on Serbs, Roma, and ethnic Albanian rivals during and after the war.
Many former KLA chiefs have gone on to dominate politics in Kosovo, with many still seeing him as a liberation hero.