Albanian PM sues Kosovo’s Haradinaj for defamation over land-swap claims

By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA (Reuters) – Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has filed a lawsuit for defamation against Kosovo’s outgoing prime minister, who has repeatedly said Rama was involved in talks about dividing up Kosovo along ethnic lines, a court in Pristina said on Thursday.

Kosovo, where the population is more than 90% Albanian, is a former province of Serbia that declared its independence in 2008 but has still not been recognized by Belgrade.

Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said in public appearances throughout last year that his country’s president Hashim Thaci, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama had all been promoting the idea of a land swap between Belgrade and Pristina.

Rama, who has distanced himself from the idea of a land swap or a partitioning of Kosovo, had said he would sue Haradinaj over his comments.

That lawsuit was filed on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Pristina Basic Court said without elaborating.

The Pristina-based Betimi per Drejtesi (Oath for Justice) think tank that monitors the courts said Rama claims in his suit that he has been portrayed by Haradinaj as “a traitor.”

In 2018, presidents Thaci and Vucic had appeared to suggest in separate comments that they might be amenable to a land swap to resolve their territorial claims, although they never discussed the idea directly.

They each faced strong opposition to the idea both at home and abroad, and Haradinaj said any such deal would not be acceptable to Kosovo.

Haradinaj, who said last July that would resign after he was interviewed as a suspect by war crimes prosecutors who are part of Kosovo’s justice system but located in the Netherlands, said he was ready to face Rama’s accusations in court.

“The lawsuit of Prime Minister Rama is completely unfounded and a political diversion made by him to hide after media dramas and to avoid responsibility,” Haradinaj said on Facebook.

Rama and Haradinaj have in the past referred to each other as brothers but in the last year they have cut all communications and swapped various accusations in public.

Serbia lost control of Kosovo after NATO bombed Serb forces in 1999 to stop them killing and expelling Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians during a counter-insurgency.

Kosovo has now been recognized by more than 110 countries including the United States, but not by Serbia, Russia or China.

The United States and the EU have encouraged Serbia and Kosovo to normalize relations. If they do, Kosovo would be able to apply for membership of the United Nations, a move that Serbia’s old ally Russia is currently blocking.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Hugh Lawson)