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9 Apr, 2009 06:43

’House of horrors’: Serbians kidnapped for organs?

An old house in Albania has drawn worldwide attention with gruesome accusations that Serbian prisoners had their organs cut out to be sold on the black market for transplants.

Serbian War Crimes prosecutors and UN investigators suspect Kosovo Liberation Army supporters of committing the alleged atrocities.

Serbian war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric says he’s got more evidence for a story that keeps throwing up new twists.

“We have evidence that there was an operating room in a certain yellow house,” Vekaric said.

Last year, the former United Nations war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte claimed Serb war prisoners had been kidnapped for their body parts. But now it seems she knew only half the story.

“An UNMIK (The United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo) report that we got through our own channels said they found a couple of bottles of penicillin in that very house. There’s not enough proof to say there was an operating room, but the investigation is now on and we are trying to find out what really happened,” said the prosecutor.

The alleged crimes took place in the remote villages of northern Albania. New evidence suggests the same could have happened in the country’s capital, Tirana, and even in Macedonia.

According to Del Ponte, Serb prisoners were brought to Ripp village in 1999 by Kosovo Liberation Army fighters. She said they then cut out their organs and sold them on the black market, which provides around one-fifth of the 70, 000 kidneys transplanted around the world.

The claims zero in on one house in particular, a house identified through satellite imagery. It’s well hidden, and has been dubbed “the house of horrors” or the “yellow house." It’s since been painted white, and the resident family is furious over the allegations.

“Our family has lived in this house for generations, and we were all here during the time these crimes were supposed to take place, we haven’t done anything wrong,” said Mersim Katuci who lives in the “yellow house."

But that’s not what United Nations investigators are saying. Five years ago, they conducted their own search, and found bloodstains on one of the basement walls, and medical equipment lying on the ground nearby: syringes, drip bags, and a muscle relaxant pump had been thrown there.

“The blood stains are from when my daughter-in-law gave birth,” said Abdulla Katuci, another resident of the “house of horrors."

“I’ve no idea where the medical equipment came from. We are innocent, simple people. If we are guilty, lock us up in chains, but this is worse – to have the accusations with no proof."

He says that as many as seventeen people from the UN came to their house.

“They forced us outside for two days, and put strange chemicals around. They had shovels, and took some parts of my wooden floor with them. I don’t think anybody’s house in Albania has been checked like mine,” said Katuci.

All of Del Ponte’s eight eyewitnesses have since disappeared. But they all claimed the same thing – that the killings took place in the basement of the house.

One of the places the investigators checked was the local cemetery. They wanted to dig up the bodies here to see if there was any evidence. But the villagers were up in arms, and because they lacked proof, they had to bury the idea.

Villagers are adamant the crimes could not have happened. They claim the area was almost impassable in those days, and point out that if something like organ harvesting was taking place, someone would have seen something.

“Each day, they would drive to the border to look for proof of the genocide of Serbs. Scientifically, it’s impossible it happened there,” believes village doctor Agif Bruci.

“An organ for transplant has to be done in a hospital. Why would someone choose a house so far away from any hospital or airport? What’s more, Albania only did its first kidney transplant this year, and with foreign assistance.”

But the case is far from being closed and is being reexamined by the Council of Europe.

And the European Union’s mission in Kosovo, Eulex, has just announced it plans to conduct its own investigation into a case that divides a nation and the international community.