THE HAGUE // A United Nations war-crimes tribunal yesterday for the second time acquitted Kosovo's former prime minister for murdering and torturing Serbs and their supporters in Kosovo's war for independence.
The verdict was issued in the UN court's first retrial, which was ordered after appeal judges branded the 2008 acquittals of the former prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, and KLA fighters Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj a "miscarriage of justice" because of widespread intimidation of prosecution witnesses.
Mr Brahimaj was convicted of torture at the first trial and that was not retried, but he has served his sentence and will be released with the others.
The acquittals herald a political renaissance for Mr Haradinaj, seen by the West before his 2005 indictment as a unifying force in Kosovo, but could complicate talks between Pristina and Belgrade on the future of Kosovo.
"With the consent of the people, he will soon be resuming his rightful position as the political leader of the country," his lawyer, Ben Emmerson, said.
Mr Emmerson said Mr Haradinaj told him he wants to lead a government representing all ethnic groups in Kosovo. "It is time, he says, for reconciliation."
Hashim Thaci, Kosovo's prime minister, said the ruling vindicated the ethnic Albanian guerrilla force that fought Serbia in 1998-99.
"Our struggle for independence was just and sacred," Mr Thaci said.
Applause rang around the courtroom's public gallery when Judge Bakone Moloto delivered the verdicts.
In Kosovo's capital, Pristina, supporters set off fireworks and honked car horns. Others danced and clapped as they watched the verdicts on a giant screen.
The three men were to be released and returned to Kosovo.
"Finally, after eight long years and two lengthy trials, this tribunal has done justice to Ramush Haradinaj, to his co-accused and to the people of Kosovo," Mr Emmerson said.