x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Western powers grant full sovereignty to Kosovo

Milestone tainted by gruesome allegations of organ trafficking by group linked closely to Kosovo's prime minister.

PRISTINA // Kosovo was granted full sovereignty by the West yesterday.

Western powers on the International Steering Group, which has overseen Kosovo since its 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, formally ended 13 years of various forms of international supervision.

But on Sunday, a Serbian prosecutor revealed that Belgrade has a former Kosovo rebel witness who allegedly took part in removing the heart of a Serb prisoner for the international black market in organs during the 1990s Kosovo conflict.

Serbia's war crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, said the witness had testified about "harvesting organs from Serbs kidnapped during the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo", and had personally took part in a gruesome operation.

Kosovo's foreign minister, Enver Hoxhaj, dismissed the revelation as "propaganda" and an attempt to "blacken a very big day for Kosovo". "We had precise information ... that a day before ending the international supervision of Kosovo, Serbia would publish very bad news for Kosovo," he said.

Claims of organ harvesting by the Kosovo Liberation Army during and after the 1998-99 conflict are being investigated by the European Union.

The investigation was launched after a 2010 Council of Europe report that found a group closely linked to Kosovo's prime minister, Hashim Thaci, carried out organ trafficking during and after the conflict.

Mr Thaci and the Kosovo authorities have denied the claims.

Yesterday, Kosovo tried to look to the future, with Mr Hoxaj saying that from now on, "our country will be like other countries".

"We expect this act to strengthen our international position and help a lot in gaining new recognitions and becoming a full-fledged member of all international mechanisms," he said.

The International Steering Group consists of 23 EU countries, the United States and Turkey.

Kosovo's president, Atifete Jahjaga, said her country deserved to become equal with others.

"Kosovo today is a country that fulfils all the conditions to become a state with a clear Euro-Atlantic integration perspective. We are a free country," she said.

Kosovo is among the poorest regions in Europe.

The territory and its two million people, most of them of Albanian ethnicity, have been under some form of international administration since a Nato bombing campaign forced Slobodan Milosevic's troops out in 1999.

On February 17, 2008, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia and has since been recognised by some 90 countries, including most EU nations.

But it continues to face opposition from Serbia and Russia as well as Kosovo's ethnic Serbs, who make up 6 per cent of the population.

The end of international supervision will not affect the presence of a Nato-led peacekeeping force or a European rule of law mission created to boost the justice system.