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Investigator: Officials knew of Kosovo organ trade

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PRISTINA, Kosovo — An investigator who alleged that the Kosovo Liberation Army was trafficking human kidneys said Thursday that Western police and intelligence officers in the area knew of the grisly trade, as a top Kosovo official said the country's prime minister planned to sue for libel.

Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty, a Swiss senator whose report has rocked Kosovo, told reporters that "inhuman" treatment of people and illicit trafficking of human organs in the immediate aftermath of the country's war for independence from Serbia remains unpunished.

He claimed intelligence and police services were aware of the crimes but chose to remain silent for fear of causing political instability in the volatile region.

"I saw in the eyes of several people the terror to have to talk about these cases. But soon, we discovered that these things were known by intelligence services from the different countries," Marty said. "It was known by police services. It was known by numerous people who, in private, would say yes we know but for political reasons we made the choice or we have the duty to remain silent."

Marty's report, made public Tuesday, alleged that civilian detainees of the KLA rebels were shot to death to sell their kidneys on the black market and suggesting that Thaci was once the "boss" of a criminal underworld behind the grisly trade.

Earlier Thursday, a top Kosovo official said Prime Minister Hashim Thaci is planning to sue Marty for libel. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said that Thaci has contacted attorneys to consult them, and is also considering suing the London-based Guardian newspaper, which first published the report.

The allegations have been dismissed by Kosovo authorities as driven by a Serb-inspired agenda to undermine Kosovo's statehood. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia has refused to recognize its sovereignty.

Serbia's war crimes prosecutors expressed their "satisfaction" Thursday with Marty's report and added that their investigation of organ trafficking in the region represents "an important source" of the report.

"This day is very important for the (Serbian) prosecution because we have been working on this case for a long time," Serbia's war crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said.

He claimed that up to 500 people have been the victims of this "classic organized crime" operation, of which 400 were Serbs while the rest are other non-Albanians.

Thaci was the rebel army's political head during the 1998-99 war with Serbia, and his party just won Kosovo's first general elections since it declared its 2008 independence. He has not appeared in public since the report was released, but his office said he was to address the media Thursday afternoon.

The Council of Europe human rights panel for whom Marty conducted the investigation voted Thursday to recommend international and national investigations into the report.

Agron Bajrami, head of Kosovo's largest daily, Koha Ditore, argued that Marty's report will have consequences for Kosovo's Western backers because "it alleges that everybody somehow conspired to hide these terrible crimes."

"This is not only about Mr. Thaci in Kosovo," Bajrami said. "It is also about the Western world and the 1999 intervention. It seems to try to say that whatever happened after the 1999 war was even more terrible than the war itself and what Serbia did here."

NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days to make it stop its brutal crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.

Marty led a team of investigators to Kosovo and Albania in 2009, following allegations of organ trafficking published in a book by former U.N. War Crimes tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte who said she was given information by Western journalists.

Marty's investigation found that there were a number of detention facilities in Albania, where both Kosovan opponents of the KLA and Serbs were allegedly held once the hostilities in Kosovo were over in 1999, including a "state-of-the-art reception center for the organized crime of organ trafficking."

EU investigators looking into claims that organ harvesting took place in northern Albania have said they found no proof of the allegations. The EU police force in Kosovo on Wednesday called for those with evidence to come forward.

Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten, Jeff Schaeffer and Dusan Stojanovic contributed to the report.