Serbia seeks probe into organ trafficking report

By Dusan Stojanovic
Associated Press / December 20, 2010

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BELGRADE, Serbia—Serbia urged international authorities on Monday to investigate allegations of a trade in the kidneys and other organs of civilians slain in the aftermath of Kosovo's 1999 war for secession, officials said.

A Serbian government official traveled Monday to the headquarters of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, to meet with European human rights officials as part of a diplomatic offensive to trigger the probe.

Swiss senator Dick Marty last week released a report on the alleged illicit trafficking of human organs by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Marty's report to the Council of Europe suggested Kosovo's Western-backed prime minister and former rebel commander Hashim Thaci was behind the grisly trade.

The kidneys and other organs were allegedly removed from Serbs and other Kosovar opponents of the KLA in detention facilities in neighboring Albania. Thaci and Albanian officials have vehemently denied the accusations.

"Serbia is seeking nothing but the full truth about those accusations," said Serbian official Rasim Ljajic before he left for Strasbourg. "Without justice, there cannot be reconciliation in the region."

Thaci has dismissed the allegations as "ill-intentioned propaganda," driven by a Serb-inspired agenda to undermine Kosovo's statehood. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia has refused to recognize its sovereignty.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said Monday that Marty's report created "a completely new situation" that illustrates there were not only Serb crimes in Kosovo during the conflict, but also ethnic Albanian crimes.

"Serbia awaited for years for such a report by international institutions," Tadic said, appealing for all war crimes to be prosecuted.

Meanwhile, nine former Serb soldiers went on trial in Belgrade on Monday for their alleged crimes. A court indictment said they are charged with the brutal killing of 44 ethnic Albanians during the 1999 war -- an act in which the indictment said they showed "particular brutality, ruthlessness and insensitivity."

In the court, former Serb commander Toplica Miladinovic pleaded not guilty to the charges of murder, looting, rape, intimidation and destruction of property in the western Kosovan village of Cuska in May 1999. The crime is considered one of the most brutal of the war that left thousands dead and nearly a million displaced.

Serbian war crimes prosecutors also told reporters in Belgrade on Monday they would not raise charges against Kosovo's prime minister Thaci for the alleged organ trafficking because he is not available to the Balkan country's judiciary, and any charge would sound too politically motivated.

Serbia's deputy war crimes Prosecutor Bruno Vekaric said "there should be no political euphoria over the reported trafficking, but a serious investigation to determine who was and who wasn't responsible for the crimes."

"I think it's in the interest of Europe, Kosovo authorities and us in Serbia, and most of all the families of the victims," Vekaric said.

Jelko Kacin, in charge of the European Parliament's evaluation reports on Serbia's bid to join the European Union, said in Belgrade on Monday that Marty's report does not contain enough evidence to support the claims, but added that a legal investigation should be conducted.

"This will represent a great challenge for the judiciary in Albania and Kosovo, and international institutions should be included," Kacin said.

Marty led a team of investigators to Kosovo and Albania in 2009, following allegations of organ trafficking published in a book by former chief U.N. War Crimes tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte who said she was given information by Western journalists.

Marty's investigation found that there were a number of detention facilities in Albania, where the victims were allegedly held once the hostilities in Kosovo were over in 1999, including a "state-of-the-art reception center for the organized crime of organ trafficking." top stories on Twitter

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