Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Did Kosovo Albanians Harvest Human Organs?

They are some of the gorier allegations to come out of the Kosovo conflict.  In the summer of 1999 as the war was entering its final days it's alleged Kosovo Albanians first kidnapped then transported some 300 people, namely Serbs, to Albania where their organs were "harvested" for sale abroad. 

The chilling allegations briefly grabbed headlines in 2008 when former chief UN prosecutor Carla Del Ponte published lots of circumstantial evidence in her book, "The Hunt."  Now, Serb investigators say they have witnesses to some of the gruesome deeds and further information on who some of the victims may have been.

Serbia's top war crimes prosecutor, Vadimir Vukcevic, said 'credible' witnesses had come forward in a report in the Dec. 27th edition of the Blic newspaper.

"We have made big progress.... We have discovered the names of people who were present while operations were carried out on the people who had been kidnapped," he said.

"We have already interviewed some of these people but we have also noticed some of these potential witnesses harbour a great fear," he said.

Investigators had managed to make contact with "credible" people willing to help them, Vukcevic added.

The prosecutor said he had passed details about the discovery to the Council of Europe's envoy, Dick Marty, who is investigating the allegations.

Then on Dec. 29, the Czech daily Mlada Fronta splashed huge headlines across its frontpages, saying three Czechs were among the Kosovo organ victims.

The paper quotes Vukcevic who offers few other details other than to add other "Slavs" including Russians were among the victims.

Immediately, police in Kosovo denied the allegations. 

The Czech foreign ministry said it knew nothing about such reports.

The Czech paper asks an important question, if Czechs had died for their organs in Kosovo, who were they?  It notes no Czech soldiers or police were killed there in 1999 when NATO was bombing Serbia over the alleged abuses of the Kosovo Albanian majority.  The Czech paper speculates the trio of Czechs could have been soldiers of fortune.

Mlada Fronta also interviews a reporter from the aforementioned Serb daily Blic, Nenad Jacimovic, who says the 'organ harvesting' story has remained in the headlines for two years, and "people know that no one is interested in investigating these crimes."

Dick Marty -- the Swiss senator who headed an investigation into claims the CIA operated secret prisons in Eastern Europe -- is probing the charges for the Council of Europe. 

As mentioned, Vukcevic has been handing him reams of alleged evidence.  In May, he handed over documents as this MSNBC report tells of

wealthy Europeans — a Swiss and a German — [who] apparently were among the recipients of kidneys, livers and other organs harvested in Albania and sold via middlemen in a macabre but meticulously orchestrated operation that involved private aircraft and tens of millions of dollars.

Vukcevic's eagerness to pursue the allegations contrasts with Albanian disinterest to downright hostility.

When investigators with Marty's team visited the Albanian village of Rripe to talk to the Katuci family the were met by angry villagers who, according to this Reuters report, blocked their way for two hours. 

They never met with the Katuci family.

Who are they?  Well, this excellent report from the Guardian will tell you about their "Yellow House" and what is alleged to have gone on inside.

Albanian prosecutors say the issue has already been investigated by local authorities and U.N. war crimes tribunal investigators and proved untrue.

A United Nations inquiry into the issue in 2004 proved inconclusive.

So did a recent investigation by The Associated Press, which obtained U.N. and Serbian documents detailing what was uncovered at a farmhouse in remote north-central Albania: bloodstains, syringes, empty bottles of muscle relaxant, surgical gear and other material.

As the Guardian video report recounts, the Katuci's explanations seemed credible to investigators.

While the UN may be satisfied, Human Rights Watch isn't.  In 2008, it called on Albanian and Kosovo Albanian officials to look into reports of missing Serbs.

An association of families of kidnapped Kosovo Serbs in 2008 announced they would sue Del Ponte for withholding information on the fate of missing Serbs.

Will Marty will ever get to the truth?  Powerful forces may not want him to.

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