Serbian Prosecutor Investigating Reports of Organ Trafficking During War in Kosovo

Serbia's war crimes prosecutor is looking into reports that dozens of Serbs captured by rebels during the war in Kosovo were killed so their organs could be trafficked, the prosecutor's office said Friday.

The Serbian prosecutor's office said it received "informal statements" from investigators at the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, that dozens of Serbs imprisoned by Kosovo Albanian rebels were taken to neighboring Albania in 1999 and killed so their organs could be harvested and sold to international traffickers.

Bruno Vekaric, the Serbian prosecutor's spokesman, said later on B92 radio that Serbian war crimes investigators have also received their own information about alleged organ trafficking, but not enough for a court case. Vekaric said Serb investigators also received reports suggesting there might be mass graves in Albania containing the bodies of the Serb victims.

Serbian media reported that the issue was brought into the open in a book written by former U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte that is to be published in Italy on April 3.

According to Serbia's Beta news agency, which carried parts of the book in Serbian, Del Ponte said her investigators had been informed that some 300 Serbs were killed for organ trafficking.

The Beta report quoted Del Ponte as saying in the book that her investigators were told the imprisoned Serbs were first taken to prison camps in northern Albania where the younger ones were picked out, and their organs were later sold abroad.

Del Ponte was not available for comment. The Yugoslav tribunal's office in The Hague was closed Friday afternoon. Olga Kavran, a spokeswoman for the tribunal's prosecutors, said she could not immediately confirm whether the prosecutor's office was aware of such claims.

Beta reported that Del Ponte says in her book that tribunal investigators looking into alleged war crimes by the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army were not able to complete a case on the organ trafficking claims and bring it to trial.

Hundreds of Serbs and ethnic Albanians are still missing from Kosovo's 1998-99 war, which erupted when ethnic Albanian separatists launched a rebellion against Serbian rule.

The brutality of Serbia's response to the rebellion triggered NATO attacks against Serbia in 1999, which forced Belgrade to end the crackdown and withdraw its troops.

Kosovo has been run by the U.N. and NATO since 1999. It declared independence from Serbia last month.