BELGRADE – French police on Wednesday arrested former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, a KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army / UCK) commander during the 1998-99 Kosovo war, on a Serbian warrant, French police sources and Kosovo’s Foreign Ministry said.

The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA / Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës—UÇK) was an ethnic-Albanian paramilitary organisation that sought the separation of Kosovo from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and Serbia during the 1990s and the eventual creation of a Greater Albania. Its campaign against Yugoslav security forces, police, government officers and ethnic Serb villages precipitated a major crackdown by the Yugoslav military and Serb paramilitaries within Kosovo known as the Kosovo War of 1998–99.

The Kosovo war ultimately featured a military campaign by NATO against FRY armed forces during March–June 1999. Not long before NATO’s military action commenced, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants reported that “Kosovo Liberation Army … attacks aimed at trying to ‘cleanse’ Kosovo of its ethnic Serb population.”

Serbia considers Haradinaj a war criminal for his role in leading KLA in Kosovo, which declared independence with Western backing in 2008.

“He was stopped by French authorities based on an arrest warrant issued by Serbia in 2004, which for us is unacceptable,” the Kosovo Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said it was doing everything possible to secure his release, which it expected to happen.

French border police arrested him upon his arrival at Basel-Mulhouse airport in eastern France on a flight from Pristina, the sources said.

A French judiciary source said that investigators would on Thursday begin looking into whether there were reasons not to execute the extradition request, especially in the case that it had been issued for political reasons.

They will look at whether he has already been tried before the U.N. court on the same charges as those the arrest warrant were issued on, the source added.

Haradinaj served 100 days as Prime Minister in 2005 before being indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), at The Hague. The indictment alleges that Haradinaj, as a commander of the KLA, committed crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war between March and September 1998, the alleged purpose of which was to exert control over territory, targeting both Serb, Albanian, and Romani civilians. He was acquitted on 3 April 2008, because of lack of convincing evidence.

The head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) during this time, Søren Jessen-Petersen, welcomed the decision Haradinaj to face the tribunal voluntarily, praised his work and described Haradinaj as a “close partner and friend”, regardless Western intelligence reports that Haradinaj was a key figure in the range between organized crime and politics.

The judges addressed the atmosphere of intimidation that surrounded the trial directly and noted: “the Chamber encountered significant difficulties in securing the testimony of a large number of these witnesses. Many cited fear as a prominent reason for not wishing to appear before the Chamber to give evidence. In this regard, the Chamber gained a strong impression that the trial was being held in an atmosphere where witnesses felt unsafe, due to a number of factors set out in the Judgement.

The second trial began in 2011 in front of a second Trial Chamber made up of three different judges. On November 29, 2012 Ramush Haradinaj was acquitted a second time.

Haradinaj, the leader of the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, was travelling on a diplomatic passport when French authorities stopped him.

In June 2015, Haradinaj was arrested by Slovenian police but was released after two days following diplomatic pressure. Kosovo and France enjoy good diplomatic relations, and Paris remains one of the biggest supporters of the Kosovo so-called “independence”.

“German civil and military intelligence services have been involved in KLA training”

In February 1996, the KLA undertook a series of attacks against police stations and Yugoslav government officers, saying that they had killed Albanian civilians as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign. Later that year, the British weekly The European carried an article by a French expert stating that “German civil and military intelligence services have been involved in training and equipping the rebels with the aim of cementing German influence in the Balkan area.”

The birth of the KLA in 1996 coincided with the appointment of Hansjoerg Geiger as the new head of the BND (German secret Service). The BND men were in charge of selecting recruits for the KLA command structure from the 500,000 Kosovars in Albania.” Former senior adviser to the German parliament Matthias Küntzel tried to prove later on that German secret diplomacy had been instrumental in helping the KLA since its creation.

The Yugoslav Red Cross had estimated a total of 30,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Kosovo, most of whom were Serb. The UNHCR estimated the figure at 55,000 refugees who had fled to Montenegro and Central Serbia, most of whom were Kosovo Serbs: “Over 90 mixed villages in Kosovo have now been emptied of Serb inhabitants and other Serbs continue leaving, either to be displaced in other parts of Kosovo or fleeing into central Serbia.”

The NATO North Atlantic Council had stressed that KLA was “the main initiator of the violence” and that it had “launched what appears to be a deliberate campaign of provocation”.

Largely funded by the Albanian diaspora in Europe and the United States, proceeds from narcotics trafficking donated by Albanian drug lords nevertheless formed a significant portion of the KLA’s income. When the US State Department listed the KLA as a terrorist organization in 1998, it noted its links to the heroin trade, and a briefing paper for the US Congress stated: “We would be remiss to dismiss allegations that between 30 and 50 percent of the KLA’s money comes from drugs.”

By 1999, Western intelligence agencies estimated that over $250m of narcotics money had found its way into KLA coffers. After the NATO bombing of 1999, KLA-linked heroin traffickers again began using Kosovo as a major supply route; in 2000, an estimated 80% of Europe’s heroin supply was controlled by Kosovar Albanians.

James Bissett, Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania, wrote in 2001 that media reports indicate that “as early as 1998, the Central Intelligence Agency assisted by the British Special Air Service were arming and training Kosovo Liberation Army members in Albania to foment armed rebellion in Kosovo. (…) The hope was that with Kosovo in flames NATO could intervene …”

According to Tim Judah, KLA representatives had already met with American, British, and Swiss intelligence agencies in 1996, and possibly “several years earlier” and according to The Sunday Times, “American intelligence agents have admitted they helped to train the Kosovo Liberation Army before NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia”.