UNITED NATIONS – Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic is pressing the United Nations to lead a probe into his country's claims that Kosovar rebels trafficked in human organs during that region's 1998-1999 war for secession.
Some U.N. security council members have suggested the European Union should conduct the probe through its mission in Kosovo, which the Kosovar government supports.
But Jeremic insisted the U.N. was the proper body for the investigation because it had looked into all other allegations of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, and has the authority to travel outside Europe to conduct its probe if necessary. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin backed Jeremic's call for a U.N. probe during a Security Council hearing later Thursday.
Jeremic spoke with The Associated Press before addressing the council on the matter. He said organ trafficking was a "uniquely monstrous" practice and "the most gruesome war crime" committed in the former Yugoslavia.
A December report by the Council of Europe alleged that Kosovo's prime minister, Hashim Thaci, once headed a criminal organization behind the organ trade during the war against Serbia. It said civilians, predominantly Serbs, were kidnapped and taken to Albania where they were killed and had their kidneys harvested for sale on the international black market.
Thaci has dismissed the allegations as a Serbian campaign to undermine Kosovo's statehood. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia has refused to recognize its sovereignty. Seventy-five countries so far have recognized Kosovo's independence.
The head of the U.N. Kosovo mission Lamberto Zannier told the Security Council that he will cooperate fully with whatever body conducts the investigation, "in the awareness that while these allegations are pending, it will be even harder for reconciliation to take root."
In the Kosovo capital of Pristina on Thursday, Thaci offered to work closely with international investigators probing allegations against him, but wouldn't say if he would back a U.N.-led probe as demanded by Serbia. His Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj noted after the council meeting in New York that Serbia didn't get the wide support it had sought.
Underscoring the region's still simmering tensions, Kosovo riot police fired tear gas and used batons Thursday to disperse a crowd of several hundred ethnic Albanians who threw rocks and cans filled with red paint at them in protest over a visit by a Serbian official.
Associated Press reporter Nebi Qena in Pristina, Kosovo, contributed to this report.