Kosovo leader implicated in organ trafficking: report

Published on December 15, 2010, AFP

Category: Meet the Muslim Albanian Leaders

STRASBOURG — Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci was one of the key players in the traffic of organs of Serb prisoners after the 1998-99 conflict there, according to allegations in a draft Council of Europe report.

The report, by Swiss Council of Europe deputy Dick Marty, accuses Thaci and other senior commanders of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla group the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) of having set up the traffic.

The draft report was published on the Council of Europe website on Tuesday and will be considered by its legal affairs committee on Thursday.

In Pristina, the government of Thaci dismissed the report as fabrications designed to smear the country's leaders.

Marty wrote of substantial evidence that Serbians -- and some Albanian Kosovars -- had been secretly imprisoned by the KLA in northern Albania "and were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, before ultimately disappearing."

In the wake of the armed conflict, before international forces had time to re-establish law and order there, "organs were removed from some prisoners at a clinic in Albanian territory, near Fushe-Kruje..." he added.

Those organs were then "shipped out of Albania and sold to private overseas clinics as part of the international 'black market' of organ-trafficking for transplantation."

This was carried out by KLA leaders linked to organised crime, and "has continued, albeit in other forms, until today..." he wrote.

In this respect Marty cited an investigation by the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) into the Medicus clinic in Pristina.

EULEX said in October it had charged five people, including doctors and a former senior health ministry official, for trafficking in human organs, organised crime, unlawful medical activities and abusing official authority.

Marty specifically named Thaci, one of the KLA leaders during the conflict with Serb security forces in 1998-1999, in his report.

Thaci, he said, was "the boss" of the Drenica Group, a "small but inestimably powerful group of KLA personalities" who took control of organised crime in the region from at least 1998.

The diplomatic and political support the United States and other western powers gave him during the talks following the Kosovo conflict "bestowed upon Thaci, not least in his own mind, a sense of being 'untouchable'," he added.

"The signs of collusion between the criminal class and high political and institutional office bearers are too numerous and too serious to be ignored," wrote Marty.

Thaci also operated with the help not just of the Albanian government "but also from Albania?s secret services, and from the formidable Albanian mafia," wrote Marty.

The report's sources also implicated Thaci and his lieutenants in "assassinations, detentions, beatings and interrogations" in Kosovo and Albania between 1998 and 2000, he wrote.

Thaci's ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), which won the most votes in Sunday's general elections, denounced Marty's allegations as "fabrications" in a statement Tuesday.

The report's "goal was to disgrace KLA and its leaders," it added.

"It is based on groundless facts which are invented with a goal to harm Kosovo's image," it added.

It would "take all possible and necessary steps in order to confront Marty's fabrications, including legal and lawful ones," it warned.

Marty, a former prosecutor in Switzerland, will present his report to the Council's legal affairs committee in Paris on Thursday, when he will also hold a press conference on his findings.

If the legal affairs committee accepts his report, it will go before the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) -- of which Marty is a member -- in late January.

Claims of organ-trafficking in Kosovo first arose in the 2008 memoirs of former UN chief war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, prompting the Council of Europe investigation.

The conflict between Kosovo guerrillas and forces loyal to late Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic left around 13,000 people dead and ended by establishing the UN's administration over the territory.

Around 1,900 missing are still unaccounted for in connection with the conflict.

The draft report can be found at the Council of Europe's website: http://assembly.coe.int/ASP/APFeaturesManager/defaultArtSiteView.asp?ID=964.

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