Saturday, December 18, 2010

Kosovo Body Snatchers

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci was probably planning to spend the week celebrating his party's victory in his country's first national elections, instead he is defending himself from charges that he ran a ring of international body thieves.

The allegations go back nearly a decade to the time when the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was fighting an insurgent campaign against Serbian paramilitaries as well as the Serbian government, which was trying to pacify the rebellious region of Kosovo. The Serbs were charged with a host of war crimes against the population of Kosovo, charges that eventually resulted in a NATO-led bombing campaign against Serbia, followed by the partition, and eventual independence, of Kosovo from Serbia. But rumors persisted that the Kosovars were committing atrocities of their own, namely that they were taking civilians and captured Serbs, killing them, and then selling their organs for transplant on the black market, rumors that we have previously discussed here. With officials in Kosovo, Albania -where many of the murders and transplants allegedly took place - and EULEX (the European Union security force dispatched to Kosovo for much of the 2008) unwilling to take the allegations seriously, it seemed like they would remain rumors that is until Dick Marty, a special human rights investigator for the Council of Europe, released a report this week saying that he had proof of the body-snatching ring.

Prime Minister Thaci was obviously upset by the rumors and has branded them as an attempt to slander his fledgling state. But there are a few things worth considering: much of the current Kosovar government is made up of former members of the KLA, Thaci included; and before the KLA became allied with the West in their struggle against the Serbian government, they were listed by a host of governments (the United States included) as a potential terrorist organization with possible links to al-Qaeda (we also learned this week that some felt the KLA put more effort into fighting rival factions in Kosovo then they did the Serbs). Even though they may no longer be considered to have terrorist links, the factions of the old KLA are thought to be closely allied with organized crime groups in Kosovo and Albania; much of Kosovo's economy is currently based on activities like smuggling and other criminal activities, along with foreign aid payments and remittances by Kosovars living abroad, not exactly the basis for a thriving economy.

Kosovo has been a political football for the past several years between the US and key European powers like Great Britain and France on one side and the Russians with their traditional allies the Serbs on the other. Kosovo and Serbia spent much of the 2000s engaged in a UN-brokered set of talks to determine Kosovo's final status, a process that was short-circuited in 2008 when the Kosovars decided to walk away from the talks and declare independence and the US/UK/France decided to recognize them as the world's newest nation. The rationale given by the Western powers was that it was a necessary step to ensure another ethnic conflict didn't break out between Kosovo and Serbia, but Serbia was a much different country in 2008 – the nationalists who had driven the Kosovo conflict were out of power and the country was looking to align itself with greater Europe – it was hard to think another round of conflict was in the offing. The move rather felt like delayed payback to Serbia for causing so much mischief in the 1990s, along with an attempt to weaken the Russian position in Europe by weakening one of their allies.

As such, the Europeans didn't bother to give the persistent rumors of the Kosovo body snatching ring a proper investigation, at least until Marty came along; nor have they taken much action to quell the hold organized crime has over the country, despite the fact that – thanks to Wikileaks – they were well aware of the crime situation. Frankly, its hard to imagine what Kosovo's economy would be based on, the nation is relatively small, landlocked, and has a sparse population – the question of whether it could be a viable state was apparently not considered in the rush to recognize its independence.

It will be interesting to see how Europe moves forward with Kosovo. In addition to the body snatching ring, which Marty promises to present evidence of in the coming weeks, there are also reports from the region that there were widespread irregularities in last weekend's election that saw Thaci's party win a solid majority; certainly not good signs for the future of the Western power's pet project.
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