Specialist prosecutor for Kosovo court standing down
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The American prosecutor working to bring to justice former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army accused of crimes against ethnic Serbs in Kosovo's war for independence announced Thursday he is stepping down at the end of next month.
Specialist Prosecutor David Schwendiman issued a statement saying he will leave the post at the end of March because his three-year term as a U.S. State Department foreign service officer is coming to an end and cannot be extended.
His investigations have worked toward indicting suspects who would then be put on trial at a Hague-based court known as the Kosovo Specialist Chambers. Schwendiman has not yet issued any indictments.
"My leaving does not signal a change in policy or commitment to the work of the Specialist Prosecutor's Office and Specialist Chambers on the part of the U.S. or the European Union or the international community as a whole," he said.
Schwendiman, who took the prosecutor's job in 2015, said he issued the statement to make clear he was not resigning or being fired from his post as prosecutor of a court that is unpopular among Kosovo's rulers.
"No one responsible for the crimes covered by the mandate of the Specialist Prosecutor's Office and Specialist Chambers should for one second think that my departure has anything to do with any lack of commitment to the investigation," he said.
Under U.S. and European pressure, Kosovo's government agreed in 2015 to set up the court to confront allegations that fighters with the Kosovo Liberation Army committed war crimes against ethnic Serbs from 1998 to 2000.
Kosovo's bloody war for independence ended with a 78-day NATO air campaign in June 1999, which stopped a Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists. The war left 13,000 dead and 20,000 Albanian women raped, according to Kosovo President Hashim Thaci.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Thaci called the court a "historical injustice," and said war crimes by the Serb army, paramilitaries and police have remained uninvestigated.
Some Kosovar lawmakers tried last year to amend the law and extend the court's jurisdiction over Serbs, their former adversaries in the war, but they appear to have stopped the efforts since.
Schwendiman's deputy, Kwai Hong Ip, will step in as acting Specialist Prosecutor while a replacement is sought.