Relations with Serbia look set to deteriorate as Kosovo welcomes Ramush Haradinaj - acquitted on war crimes charges - back from The Hague and into the prime minister's chair.
Kosovo's sitting prime minister has stood down to make way for Ramush Haradinaj - the former PM who was acquitted by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague on November 29 after eight years under indictment and on trial - to return to office in early January.
In a highly charged accusation, Haradinaj said following his release that he believed his indictment to have been "the result of a deal in which I was a coin," between The Hague and the Serb government. The accusation, levelled against former chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte - currently the UN human rights investigator for Syria - is set to cause a major row, The Observer reports.
A crowd of more than 100,000 greeted Haradinaj back in the Kosovan capital Pristina. "This has been another page in my long experience, and of our country and people," the former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army during the war of independence told the British newspaper in an exclusive interview. "But now it is over. Our people have gone through great suffering, and now my plan is to become prime minister of Kosovo and build our society and economy for all Kosovans - Albanian, Serb, Roma, everyone."
Haradinaj was a leader of Kosovo's armed struggle in the late 1990s, but shifted quickly to politics. He was indicted after 100 days as prime minister, stepping down to offer himself for trial. "All along I have felt this was an injustice," he says. "All these years I've felt as though I was the coin in a deal made in Belgrade." He said he had been indicted as "a result of the trade-off that some have made with the Serbian government to make sure that Belgrade would extradite high-ranking Serbian war crimes suspects".
The acquittal marks a potentially explosive moment across the Balkans. Addressing the crowd, Haradinaj put his release in a political context of international proportions, declaring that it means Kosovo's "struggle was just and clean".
However, in Belgrade Aleksandr Vulin , the director of Serbia's Kosovo office, said the acquittal could sink fraught negotiations. "How can we discuss the missing persons, victims and seized property if sitting opposite us is someone who was fairly charged with kidnappings and murders?" he asked.
However, Serb Prime Minister Ivica Dacic counselled: "Despite everything, it is in Serbia's interests to continue the exchange with Pristina, because of EU integration."