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Investigator Calls For Truth About Kosovo Organ-Trafficking Ring

  • RFE/RL

An election billboard of Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who has been accused of playing the lead role in an organ trafficking operation.

An election billboard of Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who has been accused of playing the lead role in an organ trafficking operation.

Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty has defended his report on organ trafficking in Kosovo and Albania, saying his draft report is aimed at encouraging the search for truth.

Marty's report, which was unveiled this week following a two-year investigation, accuses former commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army of organizing organ-trafficking after the conflict with Serbian security forces ended in 1999.

Speaking at a press conference in Paris on December 16, Marty said what shocked him about the findings was that "most of the facts illustrated in this report were known by many institutions and that people kept silent about these facts."

"I don't think one can build the future of a country without working toward truth and without working on memory," Marty stressed. "There will never be peaceful coexistence between the different communities if we continue to pretend not to know."

Earlier on December 16, the Committee on Legal Affairs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted to recommend launching international and national investigations into the report, which PACE is set to debate on January 25.

A statement quoted the parliament members as saying the international organizations in place in Kosovo had "favored a pragmatic political approach, taking the view that they needed to promote short-term stability at any price, thereby sacrificing some important principles of justice."

Marty urged the authorities to continue the investigation, in hopes that a thorough probe would lead to "one justice for everybody."

"I think we have provided sufficient material to justify, finally, a deep, serious, independent enquiry, but above all we have to create the conditions which allow witnesses to speak out. Because that's the problem," Marty explained. "Under current conditions, the witnesses will not speak out because their lives are not protected."

Still Unaccounted For

The Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) led a 1998-99 guerrilla war against forces loyal to the late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic during which a NATO military intervention resulted in Belgrade losing control of the territory.

The conflict left around 13,000 people dead and ended with the establishment of a UN administration over the territory. Around 1,900 people are still unaccounted for in connection with the conflict.

Marty's report suggests current Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, the wartime political leader of the ethnic Albanian guerilla group, was one of the key players in drug and organ trafficking.

He describes how ethnic Serbs and Albanian Kosovars who opposed the UCK had been secretly imprisoned by the UCK in northern Albania "and were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, before ultimately disappearing."

In the wake of the conflict, and before international forces had time to reestablish order in Kosovo, Marty said that "organs were removed from some prisoners" at a clinic near Fushe-Kruje, Albania.

The organs were then shipped out of Albania and sold to private clinics for transplantation as part of the international black market for organs.

According to Marty, those activities have "continued, albeit in other forms, until today."

He also cited a decade of confidential reports that said Thaci and others in his group had control over drug trafficking.

Marty said Thaci was "the boss" of the Drenica group within the UCK -- a "small but inestimably powerful group of KLA personalities" who took control of organized crime in the region from at least 1998.

He said the diplomatic and political support Western powers gave Thaci during the talks following the Kosovo conflict "bestowed upon Thaci, not least in his own mind, a sense of being 'untouchable.'"

Thaci also operated with the help of the Albanian government, secret services, and mafia, according to the report.

Xhavit Haliti, a Kosovo Albanian legislator, is mentioned in the report as a member of Thaci's Drenica group.

Responding to the accusation that he was involved in the killings, detentions, beatings and interrogations, Haliti told RFE/RL's Balkan Service by phone from Paris, that at that time "we were in war and not at picnic."

"People get killed in war and people were killed in the war. No one can deny that. I don't have information about these issues, because my task as a political representative of the UCK didn't involve field work during the war," Haliti explained.

He noted that all the UCK staff members read and followed the Geneva Conventions regarding wartime policy.

"I believe that none of those who are being mentioned breached the Geneva Conventions." he countered. Therefore I think the accusations are unfounded."

Haliti also said that the allegations of organ trafficking are "very serious" and need to be "fully verified" through investigations by "professional institutions," instead of "giving statements based on political accusations by some countries and some individuals."

Marty said his findings were based on testimonies of UCK "insider sources" such as drivers, bodyguards involved in logistical and practical tasks, as well as "organizers" or the ringleaders behind the organ trade.

The report does not name its sources or the number of people who were killed in the process.

Marty, a former prosecutor in Switzerland, is best known for a 2007 probe on behalf of the Council of Europe that accused 14 European governments of allowing the CIA to run secret prisons and conduct rendition flights from 2002 to 2005.

written by Antoine Blua, with contibutions from RFE/RL's Balkan Service