French court refuses to extradite Kosovo ex-prime minister

However, Haradinaj was acquitted twice, though judges said that court hearings had been held in an atmosphere of witness intimidation.

A French court has refused to extradite a former Kosovo prime minister to Serbia to face war crimes charges.

Earlier in the day, an appeals court in the French city of Colmar turned down Serbias request on extradition of Ramush Haradinaj.

Haradinaj's lawyer, Rachel Lindon, told AP the court denied the extradition request because it did not believe the former prime minister would have a fair and balanced trial in Serbia.

In Serbia, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic's government scheduled an urgent session at 1000 GMT (6 a.m. ET) to discuss its future moves after Haradinaj's release. His government had previously said it may abolish its extradition treaty with France if he was not handed over.

Haradinaj, a lawmaker and opponent of Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, is considered a war hero by many Kosovars.

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The Serbian Office of the Prosecutor for War Crimes has charged Haradinaj with war crimes committed in Kosovo-Metohija in 1998 and 1999.

"Once again it is proven that the slanders of the Serb secret services against the Kosovo Liberation Army [the wartime guerrilla force] are unfounded and not taken into consideration by the democratic world", Thaci said.

Albanian-majority Kosovo has a population of some 1.8 million. From the steps of the court, Haradinaj said: "I have wasted four months during this judicial process. But if someone attacks us, we unite to defend ourselves", he said expressing thanks to the support he has had since his detention in January in France.

Kosovo unilaterally proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008 and is recognized by over 100 United Nations member states.

The "Greater Albania" charge refers to allegations that some ethnic Albanian politicians want to bring Kosovo and Albanian together into a single unified country.

  • Megan Austin