UNITED NATIONS – Serbia called on the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to authorize an international investigation into allegations that Kosovo rebels, led by the man who is now prime minister, trafficked in human organs before, during and after the country's 1999 war for secession.
A December report by the Council of Europe alleged that Kosovo's prime minister, Hashim Thaci, was once the head of a criminal organization behind the organ trade during the 1998-99 war against Serbia. The report said civilians — mostly Serbs — were kidnapped and killed, and their kidneys sold on the black market.
Thaci has dismissed the allegations as "ill-intentioned propaganda," driven by a Serb-inspired agenda to undermine Kosovo's statehood, but he has called for an investigation. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia has refused to recognize its sovereignty.
Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told the council and reporters afterwards that a preliminary investigation being carried out by the European Union mission in Kosovo will not be enough, because the allegations go beyond Kosovo to other countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, including Turkey and Albania, as well as unnamed countries in the Middle East, where he said patients received the trafficked organs.
The kidneys were purportedly removed from Kosovar opponents of the Kosovo Liberation Army and from Serbs in detention facilities in Albania.
The EU mission, known as EULEX, "cannot investigate outside the territory of Kosovo," Jeremic said. "I fail to see how EULEX can investigate in all these Middle Eastern countries, or in Turkey or in Albania or in some other countries of Europe."
Kosovo maintains that European investigators are capable of running the investigation on their own, given that they are operating with the blessing of the United Nations and specialize in the rule of law.
"We have no time to lose. This is very crucial for us, we need to clear out this dark cloud that is hanging over us," Kosovo's acting Foreign Minister Vlora Citaku said after the meeting. "We cannot live with this heavy burden on our shoulders for too long, therefore we are certain that EULEX is fully capable in launching this investigation."
Russia backed its ally Serbia, and U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin cited reports that witnesses have been threatened, and said the only way to protect them is to take them outside Kosovo. But Western governments including France and the United States, which has veto power, agreed with Kosovo. U.S. deputy ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo said European investigators had the support of the EU, Kosovo and neighboring Albania, and have "the jurisdiction and mandate to deal with war crimes."
European investigators traveled to Kosovo and Albania in 2009, following accusations of organ trafficking published in a book by former U.N. War Crimes tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who said she was given information by Western journalists.
The investigation, led by Swiss Senator Dick Marty, found a number of detention facilities in Albania where Kosovar opponents of the KLA and Serbs were supposedly held once the hostilities in Kosovo were over in 1999, including a "state-of-the-art reception center for the organized crime of organ trafficking."
However, EU officials looking into claims that organ harvesting took place in northern Albania have said they found no proof of the allegations so far.
Kosovo's population is predominantly ethnic Albanian, and Albania also has said it is open to an international investigation.
In his statement to the Security Council, the Serbian foreign minister appeared to pre-empt allegations that his request was politically motivated.
"I want to make clear that for us, the question of human organs trafficking is an ethical and human rights issue of the first order," Jeremic said. "We believe that the imperative to conduct a proper investigation must neither be politicized nor linked to diplomatic disagreements over Kosovo. It must be ultimately put in the service of truth and reconciliation."
Jeremic said he was not expecting a same-day decision.