- Associated Press - Thursday, December 16, 2010

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said Thursday that a report suggesting he was the head of a criminal gang behind a grisly trade in the kidneys of slain civilian detainees was “monstrous” and “scandalous.”

Mr. Thaci, who made his first public appearance since the publication of the report by Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty, said the allegations were aimed at damaging Kosovo’s image internationally.

“The world knows who was the aggressor and who were the victims in Kosovo,” Mr. Thaci 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.”

In an address broadcast live on Kosovo’s public television, the former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army said he felt “deeply offended” by the allegations.

“As prime minister, citizen of Kosovo and a father, I feel deeply offended,” Mr. Thaci said. “Truth and justice are on our side.”

Dick Marty, a Swiss senator, told reporters in Paris that “inhuman” treatment of people and illicit trafficking of human organs in the immediate aftermath of the country’s war for independence from Serbia remains unpunished.

Mr. Marty’s report, made public Tuesday, claimed that civilian detainees of the KLA rebels were shot to death to sell their kidneys on the black market and suggested that Mr. Thaci was once the “boss” of a criminal underworld behind the trafficking.

Mr. Thaci dismissed the allegations as “ill-intentioned propaganda,” driven by a Serb-inspired agenda to undermine Kosovo’s statehood. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia has refused to recognize its sovereignty.

Serbia’s war crimes prosecutors expressed their “satisfaction” Thursday with Mr. Marty’s report and added that their investigation of organ trafficking in the region represents “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 have been the victims of this “classic organized crime” operation, of which 400 were Serbs while the rest are other non-Albanians.

Mr. Marty declined to specify how many people were killed for their organs.

“There are victims — perhaps not as many as some people claim — but there were several victims, and even if there were one or two, that would be enough and would justify an investigation,” he said.

Thaci called on Marty to provide facts and evidence to judicial institutions to assist the investigations. Thaci also said he is to pursue “all possible legal and political action” to counter the allegations in the report.

Earlier Thursday, a top Kosovo official said Mr. Thaci is planning to sue Mr. Marty for libel. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Mr. Thaci has contacted attorneys to consult them, and is also considering suing the London-based Guardian newspaper, which first published the report.

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