Kosovo PM urges vote on new war crimes court but calls it insult

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo’s premier has summoned parliament to vote on creating an EU-backed special court to try ethnic Albanian ex-guerrillas accused of harvesting organs from murdered Serbs during the Balkan state’s 1990s war, but criticized the plan as an insult.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci speaks to Reuters during an interview in Pristina March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Hazir Reka

The move stems from a 2011 report by Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty alleging that Kosovo Albanian guerrillas fighting a war of independence from Serbia had smuggled the bodies of Serbs into Albania and removed their organs for sale.

“This issue is completely unfair and an insult for the state of Kosovo,” Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who was the political chief of the old Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), said on Thursday.

Thaci said on Thursday that the assembly “should take a decision”, signaling that the 120-seat parliament would have to vote on the new court possibly next week.

Political sources say Western diplomats have been pressing the Kosovo government to accept the tribunal and endorse it via a parliamentary vote before the assembly dissolves in a few weeks for a general election to be held by September.

U.S. and European Union officials have warned Kosovo leaders that if they do not set up the court then the organs case will be referred to the U.N. Security Council.

Thaci has rejected Marty’s accusations as an attempt to tarnish the reputation of the KLA, which won NATO air support in 1999 to help drive out Serbian security forces trying to crush the uprising in ethnic Albanian majority Kosovo.

Efforts to investigate alleged war crimes by guerrillas have run up against widespread intimidation in a small country where clan loyalties run deep and former KLA rebels are lionized.

The new court will operate under Kosovo law but most of its work will be done abroad, possibly in the Netherlands, in help protect witnesses from attack or intimidation. Both prosecutors and judges will be foreign citizens.

The allegations are being investigated by U.S. prosecutor John Clint Williamson on behalf of the EU, which has a mission in Kosovo overseeing major war crimes and corruption cases. Williamson is expected to wrap up his work within months.

An estimated 10,000 people died during the 1998-99 war, the great majority of them ethnic Albanians. About 1,700 people are still missing from the conflict.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Mark Heinrich