Kosovo's new President Hashim Thaci looks on during the Presidential inauguration ceremony in Pristina, Kosovo April 8, 2016. REUTERS/Armend Nimani/Pool(reuters_tickers)
By Stephanie van den Berg
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The prosecutor of alleged war crimes in the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict vowed on Thursday to work "fairly, vigorously and without fear" in an investigation which could implicate some of the country's top politicians.
In his first news conference after being named to the job this month, David Schwendiman said it was too early to rule in or out any suspects.
A 2011 report for the Council of Europe tied leading Kosovo figures – notably President Hashim Thaci – to gruesome crimes against Serbs, including trade in organs harvested from prisoners of war.
Thaci denies wrongdoing.
"There is more to say, more to come before everything is in place to allow me to make formal charging decisions," Schwendiman said.
The new Hague court, called the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, is being set up after pressure from the European Union on the Kosovo government to confront allegations of war crimes committed against ethnic Serbs by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
It will operate under Kosovo law, but use international judges and prosecutors.
Registrar Fidelma Donlon said Thursday the court was hoping to "commence judicial activity" in the first half of 2017, adopting rules of procedure and evidence before Schwendiman could bring charges against any suspect.
The court is still in the process of appointing the judges who will determine those rules, she said.
Forces of late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic were accused of massacring Kosovo Albanian civilians in a counter-insurgency campaign in the former Serbian province before they were driven out by NATO air strikes and the KLA in 1999.
Former members of the KLA are seen by many of the now independent state's ethnic Albanian majority as freedom fighters.
"I am not talking about who, what or when ... I will not mention who is on or off the table" prosecutor Schwendiman said on Thursday.
"I don't take instruction from anyone."
The Hague is home to a number of international courts. The Kosovo allegations fall outside the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court, making the new chamber necessary.
Milosevic and several other Serbs have been prosecuted for war crimes in the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, and some Serbs accuse legal authorities in the Hague of being biased against them.
(Writing by Toby Sterling and Anthony Deutsch; editing by Andrew Roche)