Kosovo rebels harvested Serbs’ organs, according to 2003 UN testimony
PRISTINA, Kosovo — Ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo gave detailed testimony in 2003 on an alleged program to kill Serb captives, sell their organs, and bury hundreds of victims to hide evidence of civilian killings, according to a United Nations document obtained by the Associated Press.
The 30-page compilation of statements by at least eight people to UN investigators could provide momentum to claims that the world body failed to pay proper attention to war crimes by ethnic Albanian Kosovars in their 1990s war for independence.
UN authorities briefly investigated organ harvesting claims in 2004 but never launched a full-fledged probe, prompting Serb accusations of double standards in pursuing war crimes.
The document outlines an alleged scheme to take captives of the Kosovo Liberation Army rebels to Albania in the aftermath of the war so their kidneys, livers, and other organs could be removed at a home that had been set up as a medical clinic.
UN officials were told the home was equipped with specialized equipment and medical personnel to carry out operations.
In a letter dated Dec. 12, 2003, Paul Coffey, the top justice official in Kosovo at the time, wrote to Jonathan Sutch, the official in charge of Yugoslav tribunal investigations in Kosovo, that the alleged crimes were reported to the United Nations in Kosovo by “multiple sources of unknown reliability.’’
Coffey said the information was “based on interviews with at least eight sources, the credibility of whom is untested, all ethnic Albanians from Kosovo or Montenegro who served in the Kosovo Liberation Army.’’
Details of the interviews were given more than seven years ago to the UN’s Netherlands-based tribunal that was then responsible for prosecuting war crimes in the former Yugoslavia; no one has been brought to trial.
The interviews were made available to the AP by an international official who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the case.
They appear to back allegations made by Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty, who said in a recent report on the case that Western governments ignored the accusations for fear of destabilizing Kosovo.
Marty’s report in December named Hashim Thaci, Kosovo’s prime minister and the former head of the KLA, as the boss behind a network dealing in kidneys and other human organs as well as organized crime. Thaci has denied wrongdoing and has supported an international inquiry.
According to the documents, the sources told UN officials in 2003 that senior KLA officers and officials from the Albanian government were involved in the alleged crimes, which purportedly went on as late as the summer of 2000, almost a year after Kosovo came under UN and NATO control.
One source is quoted as telling investigators that the first two surgeries to harvest organs were done “to breach the market,’’ and that traffickers later were able to make up to $45,000 per body.
“The largest shipment was when they did five Serbs together. . . . He said they took a fortune that time,’’ the source said, according to the document. “Other shipments were usually from two or three Serbs.’’
The source told investigators that workers at the Rinas airport outside the Albanian capital of Tirana and at the airport in Istanbul, where the organs were allegedly taken for sale, were bribed “to close their eyes.’’
The flight between the cities takes about 1 hour 45 minutes; sources told the UN that the house where the organs allegedly were harvested was a two-hour drive from the airport.
If packed in ice after removal, organs are viable for several hours after extraction — hearts and lungs for 4-6 hours, livers for 18-24 hours, kidneys for 24-48 hours.