EU ready to probe Thaci over organ trafficking claims

Kosovo govt rejects allegations of PM Hashim Thaci`s involvement in crimes.

Pristina: The Kosovo government rejected on Wednesday allegations of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci`s involvement in organ trafficking and other crimes, but the European Union said it was ready to investigate.

A Council of Europe report accuses Thaci of heading a group within the ethnic-Albanian guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which fought Serbia in 1998 and 1999, that set up a network of unofficial prisons in Albania.

It alleges one of Thaci`s allies operated a ring for the "forcible extraction of human organs for the purposes of trafficking" from the prisoners, mainly Serbs.

Kosovo interim president Jakup Krasniqi dismissed the report as "absurd" and "full of clear fabrications, non-existent facts and allegations which are not confirmed by international justice."

Krasniqi charged it "contains racist statements" aimed at putting the KLA`s activities and "massacres of (then Serbian strongman Slobodan) Milosevic`s regime" during the war on an equal footing.

"Attempts to mix up the victims with the executioner cast a shadow of suspicion on all the activity and impartiality of the Council of Europe`s rapporteur," he said, referring to the report`s author, Swiss deputy Dick Marty.

The European Union, however, takes "allegations on war crimes and organised crime extremely seriously”, said Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

"We have seen the report and if the rapporteur, Mr Marty, has any concrete evidence, we invite him to bring this forward to the relevant authorities," she said in Brussels.

This included the EU`s police and justice mission in Kosovo, EULEX, which has the mandate to try cases that the Kosovo judiciary cannot or will not handle because of their sensitive nature, like war crimes and corruption claims.

Amnesty International called on the EU "to open an immediate investigation".

"The families of the Serbs, Roma and Albanians abducted after the war have waited too long for justice. They deserve to know their relatives` fate," it said.

The claims first arose in the memoirs published in 2008 of former UN chief war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, which prompted the Council of Europe to reopen the case briefly investigated by her office five years ago.

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha said that Marty`s report only "repeats completely unfounded accusations" made by Del Ponte.

Serbia, which does not recognise Kosovo`s 2008 breakaway from its own territory and declaration of independence, was however quick to question whether Thaci could remain on as prime minister.

"I do not know what future that person has, if one takes into account the Council of Europe report," Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said.

Serb President Boris Tadic said he was nonetheless willing to go ahead with EU-brokered dialogue with Thaci on outstanding disputes related to Kosovo`s unilateral declaration of independence, Beta news agency reported.

"We have to negotiate with anyone whom Kosovo Albanians elect as their legitimate representative," Tadic said.

But he insisted the allegations from Marty`s report be examined.

In Kosovo, media published only the main conclusions of the report and the government`s rejection, without commenting.

But one independent journalist, who asked not to be identified because of the taboo about broaching the topic, said it was a serious blow for Thaci.

"He might survive the hit locally but I can hardly imagine Western statesmen from now on posing with him and smiling for the camera," he said.

Marty`s report says the trafficking and other criminal enterprises were controlled by the so-called Drenica group within the KLA after the war in 1999.

It says intelligence reports commonly identified Thaci "as one of the most dangerous of the KLA`s criminal bosses" who also controlled the trade in heroin and other narcotics.

The conflict between ethnic-Albanian Kosovo guerrillas and Milosevic`s forces left around 10,000 people dead before NATO forces intervened.

More than 1,900 people are still unaccounted for in connection with the conflict, including up to 500 Serbs and other non-Albanians.

Marty`s draft report will be considered by the Council of Europe`s legal affairs committee on Thursday.

Bureau Report

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