Serbs slains for their organs, says ex-U.N. lawyer

Published on April 11, 2008, CNN.com

Category: Violence Against Christian Serbs and Their Holy Places

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) -- A human rights group has urged Kosovo authorities to investigate claims by a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor that ethnic Albanian guerrillas killed dozens of Serbs and sold their organs at the end of the war in Kosovo.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Carla Del Ponte had presented "sufficiently grave evidence" in her newly-published book to warrant an investigation into claims guerrillas took Serbs into Albania, killed them and then sold their organs to international traffickers in 1999.

In a letter dated April 4 and addressed to Kosovo's prime minister, the rights group called upon Kosovo's authorities "to determine the veracity" of the claims with counterparts in Albania.

The confidential letter was obtained by The Associated Press on Friday from an international official. Officials from the rights group confirmed they had sent the letter, but declined to comment, saying they wanted to give Kosovo authorities time to respond to the request.

"We consider the circumstantial evidence she presents to be sufficiently grave to warrant further investigation," Human Rights Watch said in the letter.

"We urge you to initiate a thorough investigation in cooperation with your Albania counterparts, in order to determine the veracity of Del Ponte's claim and to ensure anyone found responsible for such crimes is held accountable in a court of law," it said.

In the letter, the rights group said Del Ponte was told that Kosovo Albanians transported between 100 and 300 people -- most of them Serb civilians -- by truck from Kosovo into northern Albania in June 1999, as NATO and the United Nations were moving into Kosovo at the end of the war between separatist rebels and Serbian forces.

"Some of the younger, healthier captives were allegedly fed, examined by doctors and never beaten," the group said in the letter.

They were then transported into facilities near the Albanian town of Burrel, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of the capital, Tirana, where "doctors extracted the captives' internal organs," Human Rights Watch said.

"Bodies of the victims may be buried near a yellow house nearby a graveyard about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Burrel," the letter says.

It cites Del Ponte saying U.N. investigators inspected the house and found medical equipment used in surgery and traces of blood, but were unable to determine if the blood was human.

According to Del Ponte, high-level members of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army were aware of the organ-smuggling operation. Most of the victims were Kosovo Serbs, but they also included women from Kosovo, Albania, Russia and Slavic countries.

Kosovo's justice minister Nekibe Kelmendi dismissed the allegations as "fabrications."

"These are pure fabrications by Del Ponte or by Serbia itself," Kelmendi said. "I have had four private meetings with Carla Del Ponte and she never once mentioned any such allegations."

She criticized Del Ponte "for writing about issues that were not turned into official charges."

"If she knew of such cases then she should be charged for withholding evidence and hiding these crimes," Kelmendi said.

Kelmendi's ministry was also on the list of authorities who received the letter from the rights watchdog. European Union and U.N. officials in Kosovo were also sent the letter.

Serbia's war crimes prosecutor has said he will look into the claims. Families of missing Serbs, however, accuse the prosecutor of failing to take action even though they have provided the names of 300 people they accuse of being involved in the kidnapping of Serbs.

Hundreds of Serbs and ethnic Albanians are still missing from Kosovo's 1998-99 war.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Feb. 17 and has been recognized by the United States and the bulk of nations in the European Union. Serbia and its ally Russia oppose Kosovo's statehood.


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