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Serbia Asks UN for Investigation into Human Organ Smuggling

Serbia has asked the U.N. Security Council to authorize an independent criminal investigation into allegations that some of its citizens were killed for their organs by ethnic Albanian gangs in Kosovo during the ethnic conflict in the late 1990s.

The allegations are not new. Former U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte wrote about them in her 2008 memoir.

But they have been raised again, following a December report from Council of Europe Rapporteur Dick Marty, who said Hashim Thaci, who is now Kosovo’s prime minister, headed a faction of the Kosovo Liberation Army in the late 1990s that ran an organized crime network that allegedly harvested human organs from murdered Serb prisoners. Other senior Kosovar leaders have also been implicated in the report.

Addressing the Security Council Wednesday, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said an independent criminal investigation of the allegations is "essential"” "Such an investigation must be internationally mandated as well as internationally accountable. It must also be able to provide an effective witness protection and relocation program to guarantee credible testimony by all," Jeremic said.

Kosovo’s government and Mr. Thaci have vigorously denied the accusations, saying they are nothing more than politically motivated slander against the country’s leaders and an attempt to undermine Kosovo’s three years of independence from Serbia.

Kosovo’s acting Foreign Minister Vlora Citaku reiterated her government’s firm rejection of the allegations. She noted that the accusations have been subject to international investigations before by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), but she said Pristina would welcome further investigation from EULEX, the European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo.

"The government of Kosovo wishes to reaffirm its official stance that in light of the severity of the allegations it will insist on the prompt launch of a thorough investigation by EULEX prosecutors on the ground. EULEX, entrusted by the U.N. and EU to support the local juridical system, has the expertise, the resources, the prosecutors and the judges to thoroughly investigate the allegations put forth. We will add to it our full cooperation," she said.

The U.N. Secretary-General’s envoy to Kosovo, Lamberto Zannier, also took the position that EULEX has the expertise and jurisdiction to handle the matter.

EULEX has said that their prosecutors have already opened a preliminary investigation into the allegations and they have called on all relevant organizations and individuals, including Dick Marty, to present what evidence they have regarding the accusations.

Serbia’s foreign minister said an investigation by EULEX would not be sufficient on its own, because the mission cannot operate outside of Kosovo and the allegations appear to extend beyond that territory to countries in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Most U.N. Security Council members said they would support EULEX looking into the allegations and did not express the need for a separate investigation. Russia, a close ally of Serbia, was one of the major exceptions, saying it supports the idea of an international investigation accountable to the United Nations.