Serb prisoners had their internal organs removed and sold by
ethnic Albanians during the Kosovo war, according to allegations in a new
book by the world's best known war crimes prosecutor.
Carla Del Ponte, who stepped down in January as chief
prosecutor at the Hague tribunal for crimes committed in the Balkan wars of
the 1990s, said investigators found a house suspected of being a laboratory
for the illegal trade.
A senior adviser to Hashim Thaci, Kosovo's prime minister and
a leading member of the Kosovo Liberation Army which is accused of benefiting
from the trade, yesterday denied the allegations.
"These are horrible things even to imagine," said
Bekim Collaku. "But this is a product of her [Miss Del Ponte's]
Miss Del Ponte reports that the allegations were made by
several sources, one of whom "personally made an organ delivery" to
an Albanian airport for transport abroad, and "confirmed information
directly gathered by the tribunal".
According to the sources, senior figures in the Kosovo
Liberation Army were aware of the scheme, in which hundreds of young Serbs
were allegedly taken by truck from Kosovo to northern Albania where their
organs were removed. Miss Del Ponte provides grim details of the alleged
organ harvesting, and of how some prisoners were sewn up after having kidneys
"The victims, deprived of a kidney, were then locked up
again, inside the barracks, until the moment they were killed for other vital
organs. In this way, the other prisoners were aware of the fate that awaited
them, and according to the source, pleaded, terrified, to be killed
immediately," Miss Del Ponte writes.
The claims in The Hunt: Me and War Criminals have renewed
tensions between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo, which declared
independence two months ago. In it, the Swiss ex-prosecutor reveals how her
efforts to bring alleged war criminals to justice were stymied by lack of
co-operation from all sides - Serb, Albanian and even Nato. But it is her
report of the organ traffic that has caused most shock, even in a region long
hardened to horror.
Vladan Batic, Serbia's former justice minister, said:
"If her allegations are true, then this is the most monstrous crime
since the times of Mengele, and it must be made a priority, not only of the
domestic judiciary but also of the Hague Tribunal." The book reports a
visit by Hague tribunal investigators to a house south of the Albanian town
of Burrel where they found traces of blood across a wide area, as well as
"The investigators found pieces of gauze, a used syringe
and two plastic IV bags encrusted with mud and empty bottles of medicine,
some of which was of a muscle relaxant often used in surgical
operations," she writes. However, she concludes that the finds do not
amount to sufficient proof for a war crimes tribunal. In Belgrade, the
Serbian capital, an association of families of Serbs still listed as missing
since the Kosovo war, said it would sue Miss Del Ponte, alleging that she had
failed to act over the alleged organ-farming scandal. Serbia's war crimes
office announced it had opened its own investigation.
The book has also prompted concern in Switzerland, where it
has been criticised for tarnishing the country's celebrated neutrality,
particularly as Miss Del Ponte has been named as the Swiss ambassador to
In Belgrade, Natasha Kandic, the highly respected head of the
investigative Humanitarian Law Centre, said ordinary Serbs "welcome the
publication of this book" but said allegations of organ-smuggling were
"rumours". "I talked to her many times, she never told me
about this," said Miss Kandic.