A report accusing Kosovo’s leader of heading a mafia-style organisation should spur a formal investigation and set in motion a “dynamic of truth”, its author said.
Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty, a Swiss senator who led the two-year effort to uncover alleged crimes committed by Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, also accused officials of turning a blind eye to the atrocities.
At a media conference in Paris on Thursday, Marty acknowledged there was a scarcity of physical evidence but said it would be the task of judicial investigators to unearth this.
“I think we have delivered enough material to justify finally an investigation which goes deeper, is more serious and independent and, above all, creates the conditions for witnesses to speak,” he said.
“This report can set in motion a dynamic of truth and that could really change things… We cannot continue with these suspicions.”
Marty’s draft report accuses Thaci of being the boss of an organised crime ring during the Kosovo Albanian guerrilla war against Serbia in the late 1990s that assassinated opponents and trafficked in drugs as well as organs harvested from murdered Serbs – among other crimes.
Marty led a team of investigators to Kosovo and Albania in 2009, following allegations of organ trafficking published in a book by former United Nations war crimes tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who said she was given information by Western journalists.
On Wednesday Del Ponte told swissinfo.ch that she felt vindicated by Marty’s report, but was torn between concern and satisfaction at the idea that these “heinous acts” would be brought to justice.
The Council of Europe human rights panel for whom Marty conducted the investigation voted on Thursday to recommend international and national investigations into the report.
Marty told journalists that Western police and intelligence officers in the area knew that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was trafficking human kidneys, adding that “inhuman” treatment of people in the immediate aftermath of the country’s war for independence remained unpunished.
He claimed intelligence and police services were aware of the crimes but chose to remain silent for fear of causing political instability in the volatile region.
“I saw in the eyes of several people the terror to have to talk about these cases. But soon, we discovered that these things were known by intelligence services from the different countries,” Marty said.
“It was known by police services. It was known by numerous people who, in private, would say ‘Yes we know, but for political reasons we made the choice or we have the duty to remain silent.’”
On Thursday Thaci denied the allegations and said he would use all political and legal means to bring the truth to light.
Describing Marty’s report as “monstrous” and “scandalous”, Thaci called on the Swiss investigator to present the facts if he had any.
“These acts are done to damage the image of Kosovo,” he told a news conference in Pristina in his first remarks since the report was made public two days ago.
“The world knows who was the aggressor and who were the victims in Kosovo,” he said, referring to crimes committed by former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic against ethnic Albanians during the 1998-1999 war.
“These tendencies to change history, to equate the aggressor and the victim … will fail again.”
The allegations have been dismissed by Kosovo authorities as driven by a Serb-inspired agenda to undermine Kosovo’s statehood. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia has refused to recognise its sovereignty.
The Swiss government recognised Kosovo as an independent state on February 27, 2008 – one of the first countries to do so.
Serbia’s war crimes prosecutors expressed their “satisfaction” on Thursday and added that their investigation of organ trafficking in the region represented “an important source” of the report.
“This day is very important for the [Serbian] prosecution because we have been working on this case for a long time,” Serbia’s war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said.
He claimed that up to 500 people had been the victims of this “classic organised crime” operation, of which 400 were Serbs while the rest were other non-Albanians.
Agron Bajrami, head of Kosovo’s largest daily, Koha Ditore, argued that the report would have consequences for Kosovo’s Western backers because “it alleges that everybody somehow conspired to hide these terrible crimes”.
“This is not only about Thaci in Kosovo,” Bajrami said. “It is also about the Western world and the 1999 intervention. It seems to try to say that whatever happened after the 1999 war was even more terrible than the war itself and what Serbia did here.”
Nato bombed Serbia for 78 days to make it stop its brutal crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.