French court refuses to extradite Kosovo ex-prime minister

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Known as "Rambo" for his stocky build and military prowess, he is seen as a hero my many at home for his efforts to win independence for Kosovo from late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

A French court today rejected a request by Serbia to extradite former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, who Belgrade accuses of committing war crimes during the 1998-1999 war in the Serbian Kosovo.

The court in the northeastern town of Colmar released Ramush Haradinaj immediately after Thursday's decision.

"He lost three and half months" of his life waiting for this decision, Lindon told AP news agency, "but happily it's over".

Haradinaj's brother, Daut, a member of Kosovo's parliament, recently threatened that no Serb would remain in Kosovo if his brother were extradited, The New York Times reports.

Thousands of ethnic Albanians protested in Pristina and other cities in the region against Haradinaj's arrest.

The Kosovo conflict ended after North Atlantic Treaty Organisation bombed the now-defunct Yugoslavia, which then comprised of Serbia and Montenegro, for 78 days to force a pullout of its troops and end a counter-insurgency campaign against ethnic Albanians.

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Kosovo, a predominantly ethnic Albanian province, unilaterally declared independence a decade after the conflict, a move since recognised by more than 100 countries but not by Belgrade or its big brother ally Russian Federation.

"Once again it is proven that the slanders of the Serb secret services against the Kosovo Liberation Army (the wartime guerrilla force) are unfounded and not taken into consideration by the democratic world", he said in a statement.

Serbia requested Haradinaj be transferred to the country after French authorities arrested him in January on a Serbian warrant.

The Serbian government, which considers Haradinaj a war criminal, called an urgent cabinet meeting to discuss the refusal, saying it must consider "all implications".

He has been tried and acquitted twice at the United Nations tribunal at The Hague, although Serbia said it had further evidence involving civilian murders which it was asked to hand to the French court.

Haradinaj, 48, has been tried twice and acquitted of war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.