Kosovo PM under fire in organ-trafficking claims

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Allegations of involvement in selling organs extracted from Serb prisoners by ethnic Albanian independence fighters piled pressure on Kosovo's prime minister Hashim Thaci Friday.

The third biggest party in Kosovo's parliament, according to disputed preliminary election results, called for Thaci, already facing problems forming a new government, to be put on trial.

If the international community "suspects Hashim Thaci, let them not use it only to smear the name of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)," the populist Vetvendosje, or Self-determination Party, said in a press release.

"Instead of treating (Thaci) as their main strategic partner to keep stability (...) let's bring him to justice," it added.

The Self-Determination Party, led by activist Albin Kurti, heavily criticised Thaci in the run-up to last weekend's elections, calling his government a hotbed of corruption.

A report by Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty released just days after the first general election since Kosovo declared independence in 2008 implicated Thaci, a former leader of the KLA, in organ-trafficking.

It said Thaci headed a KLA faction which controlled secret detention centres in Albania where the organ trafficking is alleged to have taken place in the aftermath of the 1998-99 war between the guerrillas and Serbian forces.

Thaci denied the allegations and slammed them as a smear campaign against the KLA which fought the troops of then Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Thaci's deputy Hajredin Kuci said the government would sue Marty "for harming the authority of the prime minister," online media in Kosovo reported.

The Marty report also named Thaci as the boss of the Drenica faction, a "small but inestimably powerful group of KLA personalities" who took control of organised crime in the region from at least 1998.

Marty cited intelligence reports identifying Thaci as "one of the most dangerous of the KLA's criminal bosses", controlling the trade in heroin and other narcotics.

The accusations are a new blow to Thaci as he faces claims of electoral fraud after the electoral commission ordered a poll re-run in five municipalities because of irregularities.

"It weakens Thaci: just six months ago he was one of the most powerful prime ministers in the region," Halil Matoshi, editor of Kosovo's independent Koha Ditore newspaper, told AFP.

"Now he is facing claims of election fraud, the Marty report and the difficult task of cobbling together a coalition government," after a vote that boosted opposition forces in parliament.

A senior official of Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), Xhavit Haliti, who is also mentioned in the Marty report as a high ranking member of the Drenica group, said the party calls "for an internationally credible investigation of the claims presented in the report".

He asked for support from the European Union and the United States in this regard to "prevent prejudice to Kosovo", because of the claims "at this critical time".

Former UN war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who sparked Marty's investigation with claims of organ-trafficking in a 2008 book, said Friday that her team had visited a blood-stained house in Albania where organs were thought to have been taken from prisoners.

She told the Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger that her team found traces of blood and "evidence that something surgical could have taken place there".

Thanking the Council of Europe, she said, "What happened in Kosovo and northern Albania is so horrible that there must be an investigation in depth."

Switzerland Friday called for the international community, including the European Union, to launch a probe into the alleged organ trafficking, while former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said he never heard about it when he was in charge of the UN mission in Kosovo from 1999 to 2001.

"We didn't know anything. If we had known of course we would have sent people in order to see the facts and to inquire or not," Kouchner said in an interview with the BBC Serbian service.

He added that the first time he heard about it was in Del Ponte's book. "We were very surprised," he said, speaking in English.

Albania's President Bamir Topi dismissed the claims in Marty's report Friday as "phantasmagorical and completely unfounded", warning that it threatened stability in the region.

But he said Tirana was prepared to cooperate with international bodies to end "these accusations and slanders once and for all."

These included the ICTY and the Council of Europe, the foreign ministry said.

The ministry said it had closely cooperated with ICTY investigators in 2004 and offered the same facilities to Marty last year.

© 2010 AFP

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