Gruesome Kosovo probe held under tight security

November 28, 2012 - 12:00:00 am

BRUSSELS: Visitors need 24-hour security clearance, grizzled Belgian guards man the entrance, no phones or cameras please: welcome to the latest, and probably the last, of the big Balkans war crimes probes.

The US diplomat and prosecutor leading a probe into one of the most gruesome and politically sensitive affairs of the times — allegations of organ trafficking in the 1990s implicating Kosovo’s current leadership — has set up office not in the Balkans, but in Brussels.

Only this week, worries about witness intimidation prompted courts in The Hague and Pristina to demand new trials for prominent Kosovo politicians embroiled in war crimes cases. So John Clint Williamson, the 51-year-old American at the head of the European Union investigation, the most notorious inquiry to date, is taking no chances.

“Witness intimidation and witness protection is a big factor,” he said. “We’ve gone to great lengths to put this investigation in a secure posture,” said the former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes who in the 1990s worked as a trial attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

At the heart of the matter are claims that ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo removed organs from Serb prisoners of war and sold them on the black market.

In the process, up to 500 people, mostly Serbs, were abducted, tortured and killed. These events took place in the chaos following the end of the Kosovo war in June 1999.

In a hard-hitting 2010 report, Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty alleged that senior Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commanders — including current Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci — were involved.

The report said organs were taken from the bodies of prisoners held by the KLA in Albania at the time. It also linked the KLA to mafia-style crime. Thaci and his government have denied the accusations and condemned Marty’s report.