U.N. finds no evidence of Albanian organ theft

/ Source: The Associated Press

U.N. investigators found no substantial evidence to support claims that ethnic Albanian guerrillas killed dozens of Serbs in Kosovo and sold their organs, a court spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Investigators visited northern Albania after U.N. officials in Kosovo passed on allegations of organ trafficking to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 2002 and 2003, said Olga Karvan, a spokeswoman for the court's prosecutors.

"We followed the allegations and ... no substantial evidence (was found) to substantiate the allegations," Karvan said, without elaborating.

The allegations were publicized by the tribunal's former chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte in her memoirs, recently published in Italy, and prompted calls for further investigations.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has urged Kosovo to examine the claims in Albania.

'Circumstantial evidence'
In a letter dated April 4, the rights group said "circumstantial evidence" Del Ponte presents is "sufficiently grave to warrant further investigation."

In the letter, a copy of which The Associated Press obtained last week, Human Rights Watch said Del Ponte was told that Kosovo Albanians transported between 100 and 300 people — most of them Serb civilians — to northern Albania in June 1999.

At the time, NATO and the U.N. were moving into Kosovo at the end of the war between separatist rebels and Serbian forces.

The people were then allegedly transported into facilities near the Albanian town of Burrel, about 55 miles north of the capital, Tirana, where "doctors extracted the captives' internal organs," Human Rights Watch said.

Unable to determine source of blood
The group quotes Del Ponte as saying U.N. investigators inspected a house near Burrel and found medical equipment used in surgery and traces of blood, but were unable to determine if the blood was human.

Karvan said that when tribunal prosecutors failed to uncover evidence backing the reported organ harvesting, "the matter was left to competent authorities such as UNMIK and the Albanian authorities to consider whether to proceed any further." UNMIK is acronym of the U.N. mission in Kosovo.

Even if the case is reopened now, it will not happen at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, which has stopped issuing indictments and is under pressure from the U.N. Security Council to finish all trials and close its doors by 2010.