New witness accounts of KLA torture camps

LONDON, BELGRADE, PRIŠTINA -- A former KLA prisoner, a Kosovo Albanian, has given the BBC an eye-witness account of the torture of Serbs, Albanians and Roma held in a camp in Kukes.

Vladimir Vukčević (Fonet, archive)
Vladimir Vukčević (Fonet, archive)

Serbs, Roma and Kosovo Albanians had been locked up, tortured and killed in northern Albania, the witness said. The source, who was also a prisoner, confirmed that organ harvesting and trafficking had also occurred in Albania.

Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukčević said that the resumption of domestic and international investigations depended on the visit to Belgrade of EU special rapporteur for these crimes, Dick Marty, which had yet to happen.

The BBC’s source, a Kosovo Albanian prisoner in the Kukes camp, gave accounts of the torture, murder and abduction of Serbs, Albanians and Roma.

According to an earlier investigation, kidnapping, torture and murders of Kosovo civilians, as well as the alleged trafficking of human organs, occurred in Albania during the 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo, and particularly flourished after the arrival of international forces in June 1999.

“I saw a lot. I saw them beat and torture people. Some were not given food for five, six days, they would put vests on others, and then shoot them to make sure that the vests worked,” the witness recalled.

“I saw people pushed into graves, after being tortured and killed. The prisoners were Serbs, Roma and Kosovo Albanians. All of them were civilians,” he said.

The BBC found their second secret source in the Albanian town of Burrel.

Two former KLA members, who used to smuggle weapons, told BBC about how people were transported from Kosovo to Albania.

“I was told that I had to transport some people to Albania. There were three prisoners, civilians. Judging by the way they were dressed, I would say they were farmers. Their hands were tied,” the former KLA member described.

“When we took the first group from Kosovo to Burrel, I heard that they’d been examined by doctors there. They took their blood samples and asked if they had been tortured. That confused me. Why were they asking about their health? Then I heard something about how the prisoners or their kidneys were being transported to the airport. I heard that they were headed to Turkey,” he said.

Former KLA commander and former Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku said that he supported an investigation into these claims and that he was convinced that it would show that the KLA had been a clean army that had fought a clean war.

“Firstly, I was never in the area around Kukes during the war. I was in Kosovo the entire time. So I have no information and have not heard of anything like that. I personally do not believe that anything like that happened,” Ceku said.

Documents with witness testimony were given to the then head of the UNMIK Missing Persons Office, Jose Pablo Baraybar, and were published for the first time by B92.

The Serbian prosecution possesses similar witness statements.

“It’s significant that journalists got to the same information that we have, and it is important, because, by the nature of our job, we cannot make this information public, so it is good that someone else showed up to confirm what we already know,” Vukčević said.

BBC quoted Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, once the KLA political director, who denied the claims that the KLA had systematically tortured and killed Serb, Roma and disloyal Albanian civilians.

Vukčević said that Thaci’s statement was of little consequence.

“Everyone tries to hide what they have done. I do not think they are of much importance,” he said.

After the arrival of the international peacekeepers in Kosovo in 1999, some 1,000 non-Albanians disappeared from the territory, and it is presumed that some 300 were illegally transported to Albania.

Kosovo minister dismisses claims

Kosovo Justice Minister Nekibe Kelmendi has dismissed the allegations in certain Western media of crimes perpetrated by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

“The Kukes case is the same attempt as that ’yellow house’, while the aim is to divert attention and impede recognition of Kosovo’s independence,“ Kelmendi told Priština daily Koha Ditore following the BBC documentary screened yesteday.

She proposed that EULEX, which has an exclusive mandate for this, launch an investigation and shed light on the matter.

“Let’s see what happened. If something really did happen, then I’m sure that it’s an individual case,“ said the minister.

The daily states that EULEX has already launched an inquiry into the ’yellow house’ case in Burrel, in northern Albania, and that it will “quickly decide“ whether to open a new investigative procedure.