April 23, 2014 / 12:49 PM / 5 years ago

Kosovo parliament votes for a new war crimes court

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo’s parliament approved on Wednesday an EU-backed special court to try ethnic Albanian ex-guerrillas accused of harvesting organs from Serbs captured in the 1998-99 Kosovo war.

Eighty-nine deputies in the 120-seat parliament voted in favor of creating the court, although Prime Minister Hashim Thaci called it “humiliation and injustice” for the former Serbian province.

The allegations surfaced in a 2011 report by Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty, which said the Albanian guerrillas fighting a war of independence from Serbia had smuggled the bodies of Serbs into Albania and removed their organs for sale.

Marty explicitly mentioned Thaci and other high-profile officials from the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) as the leaders of a group that committed alleged crimes.

Thaci, who was the political chief of the former Kosovo Liberation Army, has rejected the allegations as an attempt to tarnish KLA’s reputation. On Wednesday, he said the international community was forcing Kosovo to make a very difficult decision but there was no other way.

“This is the biggest humiliation and injustice for the state of Kosovo and its society,” he told deputies before the vote.

“A possible refusal will not only enforce the voices that say Kosovo is preventing ... the verification of the claims from the report, but it will also have huge consequences for Kosovo in the international arena,” Thaci said.

Marty’s report said most of the alleged crimes occurred after June 1999, when NATO’s bombing campaign forced Belgrade to end the war and withdraw Serb forces from Kosovo.

U.S. prosecutor John Clint Williamson is investigating the allegations on behalf of the European Union, which has a mission in Kosovo to oversee major war crimes and corruption cases. Williamson is expected to wrap up his work within months.

The court will operate under Kosovo laws, but prosecutors and judges will be international. It will have one seat in Kosovo and another abroad, possibly in the Netherlands, which will deal with protected witnesses.

Analysts said the investigation could have a serious impact.

“Kosovo’s political scene would be substantially affected by any high-profile arrests that may happen in due time,” said Krenar Gashi, a political analyst in Pristina. “This could lead to political stalemates, while the risk for social unrest is somewhat lower but not negligible.”

So far, local efforts to investigate alleged war crimes by guerrillas have run up against widespread intimidation in the small country, where clan loyalties run deep and former KLA rebels are lionized.

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.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Larry King

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