January 13, 2017 / 2:07 PM / 7 months ago

Serbia says it will retaliate if France refuses to hand over Kosovo ex-PM

President of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) Ramush Haradinaj, a Kosovo Albanian former guerilla commander who served briefly as prime minister, speaks during an interview with Reuters at the AAK headquarters in Pristina December 4, 2012.Hazir Reka

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia said on Friday it would refuse to extradite people sought by France if French authorities failed to hand over a former Kosovo prime minister and guerrilla commander who is charged with war crimes by Belgrade.

French police detained Ramush Haradinaj as he flew into the country on Jan. 4, acting on a warrant from Serbia which wants to try him for offences related to the 1998-1999 war in its former province of Kosovo.

But on Thursday a French appeals court released Haradinaj, while ordering him to remain in France pending a review of a Serbian extradition request.

The arrest soured fragile, European Union-brokered talks between Serbia and Kosovo aimed at normalising their relations and help both eventually qualify for accession to the EU. Kosovo declared independence with Western backing in 2008.

After a cabinet session called to discuss the Haradinaj case, Serbian Justice Minister Nela Kuburovic said Belgrade would hit back if France declined to extradite the now-Kosovo opposition leader.

"If someone convicted or indicted for savage killings, torture and rape is not extradited to Serbia, we will do the same for requests filed by France," Kuburovic told a news conference. "France should honour international treaties (on extradition) that it signed."

He said prosecutors in Belgrade handed over all evidence and witness testimonies to the authorities in France. Serbia has charged Haradinaj with killings, torture and abductions of Serbs as well as ethnic Albanians and minority Roma people both during and after the late 1990s war.

At a news conference, Marko Djuric, the head of Serbia's Office for Kosovo, said the government's decision applied to all countries that have previously freed people sought for war crimes by Serbia, including Slovenia and Switzerland.

In 2005 and 2007, Haradinaj was tried and acquitted of war crimes at a U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

The Kosovo conflict ended after NATO bombed Serbia to force a pullout of its troops and an end of its bloody counter-insurgency against ethnic Albanians.

The government in Pristina has already asked the EU to press Serbia to drop the arrest warrants against Haradinaj and others. It also called for a halt of the EU-mediated normalisation talks with Belgrade that are crucial to Serbia's EU aspirations.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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