April 21, 2015 / 2:12 PM / 4 years ago

West tells Kosovo to create court to hear organ harvesting claims

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Europe and the United States urged Kosovo on Tuesday to create a special court to investigate allegations of organ harvesting by ethnic Albanian guerrillas, saying failure would allow Serb-ally Russia to take up the cause at the United Nations.

The West wants an ad hoc tribunal, created by Kosovo but located in the Netherlands, to address allegations contained in a 2011 report by the Council of Europe that members of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) removed and sold organs from Serb captives during the 1998-99 Kosovo war.

An EU-led task force concluded last year that there was enough evidence to pursue prosecutions. The allegations have angered Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority, many of whom regard the guerrillas as heroes credited with ridding Kosovo of Serbian repression with the aid of NATO air strikes.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with the backing of the West, over the objections of Serbia and its ally Russia.

Kosovo’s government, which includes a party that emerged from the KLA, has agreed to create the court but is struggling to secure the two-thirds majority required to endorse it in parliament.

“Kosovo continues to be the hostage of that report,” the EU’s envoy to Kosovo, Samuel Zbogar, said on Tuesday.

“I think the time has come to put the blame on individuals rather than to take it on the nation as such,” he said.

He said failure to create the court may result in the issue coming before the United Nations Security Council, where diplomats say Russia may push for the creation of a new tribunal under U.N. auspices.

“What I hear from permanent members of the Security Council from Europe is that they will not be able to stop the process if it comes there,” Zbogar said.

“Disappointing your friends and allies will for sure affect your relations with them.”

A similar warning was issued by Washington’s Ambassador for War Crimes, Stephen Rapp, during a visit to Pristina.

In an interview published in the Kosovo daily Koha Ditore on Tuesday, Rapp said allowing the United Nations to take the lead could result in the appointment of officials “who may not have the best interests of Kosovo independence at heart and will use that as a means to weaken Kosovo.”

Under the Western plan, the tribunal would be financed by the European Union but act under Kosovo law. It would contain EU prosecutors and judges and be seated in the Netherlands in a nod to concerns over witness intimidation and the independence of Kosovo’s judiciary.

Editing by Matt Robinson and Janet Lawrence

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