A special prosecutor appointed by the European Union to investigate allegations of war crimes by Kosovo Albanian leaders said Tuesday he had found "compelling indications" of crimes against humanity, including the killing of minorities to harvest and sell their organs.
The organ trafficking incidents during the Kosovars' 1998-99 war for independence from Serbia appear to have been fewer than 10, said Clint Williamson, the U.S. prosecutor named in 2011 to investigate reports of atrocities condoned by leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
"There are compelling indications that this practice did occur on a very limited scale and that a small number of individuals were killed for the purpose of extracting and trafficking their organs," Williamson said in a statement read to reporters at a Brussels news conference.
Even one victim of murder for the purpose of harvesting organs for sale on international black markets constitutes "a terrible tragedy," Williamson said.
"The fact that it occurred on a limited scale does not diminish the savagery of such a crime," Williamson said in the videotaped report.
Further evidence gathering is necessary to bring charges against KLA leaders in the reported instances of killing captive Serbs, Roma and other ethnic minorities to extract their organs, the prosecutor said. But indictments are being prepared on other charges, including extrajudicial killings, abductions, sexual violence and other abuses, Williamson said.
"We believe that the evidence is compelling that these crimes were not the acts of rogue individuals acting on their own accord, but rather that they were conducted in an organized fashion and were sanctioned by certain individuals in the top levels of the KLA leadership," Williamson said without identifying the leaders. "The widespread or systematic nature of these crimes in the period after the war ended in June 1999 justifies a prosecution for crimes against humanity."
Serbia's war crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, told the Associated Press in Belgrade that Williamson's report "shows that we were right when we said that war crimes had been committed and that organ trafficking took place."
All judicial actions related to his nearly three-year investigation, however, are pending the establishment of a special EU court to try the cases, Williamson noted. He said he hoped that the judicial forum would be up and running by next year.
The Special Investigative Task Force was created to probe allegations of war crimes said to have occurred after the conflicts elsewhere in the Balkans. War crimes charges relating to the 1992-95 conflicts in former Yugoslav republics are prosecuted at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands.Follow @cjwilliamslat for the latest international news 24/7