Page last updated at 18:10 GMT, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

UN says Albania 'stalling' Serb human organs inquiry

Albanian flags line a road in Kacanik, Kosovo, February 2010
The Albanian state flag is flown widely in ethnic Albanian parts of Kosovo

A UN expert has said Albania is holding up inquiries into reports that Serbs captured during the 1998-99 Kosovo war were butchered for their organs there.

UN special rapporteur Philip Alston said the Council of Europe, Serbia and the EU authorities in Kosovo were all investigating the reports.

He called on Albania to allow an independent inquiry.

Albanian PM Sali Berisha has dismissed the allegations as fiction and says they have already been investigated.

International attention was drawn to the alleged crimes in 2008 when former UN war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte revealed in her memoirs that her team had investigated reports that around 300 Serbs held in Albania had had organs removed, apparently for sale to foreign clinics.

None of the efforts to investigate have received meaningful co-operation on the side of the government of Albania
Philip Alston
UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions

According to her book, UN investigators searched a house in the Albanian town of Burrel in 2004 after receiving reports that Kosovo Albanian militants had used it as a base for removing Serbs' organs before killing them.

"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," Ms Del Ponte wrote.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia said its judges had never received evidence in support of the allegations.

During the Kosovo war, which ended with Serbia withdrawing its forces from the province after a Nato bombing campaign and an eventual unilateral declaration of independence by the ethnic Albanian majority, thousands of people were killed, most of them ethnic Albanians.

'Diplomatic ping pong'

Last year, Albania rejected a Serbian request for an investigation into the alleged abductions and killings.

Speaking to reporters in the Albanian capital Tirana, Mr Alston said the authorities in Albania strongly believed that the allegations were "politically motivated and absolutely without any foundation".

"On this basis, none of the efforts to investigate have received meaningful co-operation on the side of the government of Albania."

His own inquiries in Albania had met with a "game of bureaucratic and diplomatic ping pong", said Mr Alston, who is the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions.

"The bottom line is that the issue is definitely stalled," he added.

"All Albanian officials I have met with consider the claims, charges of killings, as ridiculous," he said.

"If it is ridiculous, in order to get rid of this issue, make available a proposal for an independent investigation and offer genuine co-operation."

Serbia welcomed the UN expert's call for an independent investigation.

"That would be the right path to find out the truth and achieve full regional co-operation," Bruno Vekaric, a spokesman for Serbia's war crimes prosecutor, told Reuters news agency.

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