‘I cut out the heart of a live prisoner’Comment on this story
A former Kosovo rebel witness described in an interview how he removed a prisoner's heart for the black market in organs during the 1990s Kosovo conflict, Serbian RTS state television reported.
The interview was broadcast on Monday, a day after Serbia's war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic told AFP his office had a witness who “testified about a medical procedure, done in northern Albania, that consisted of harvesting organs from Serbs kidnapped during the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo”.
“They gave me a scalpel. I put my left hand on his chest and began cutting. When I got near the bottom (of the ribs), the blood started pouring,” the witness, whose face was not shown and whose voice was distorted, told RTS.
“As soon as I started cutting, he began screaming not to kill him and then he lost consciousness. I don't know if he fainted or died,” he said, apparently speaking in Albanian with his words subtitled in Serbian.
Claims of organ harvesting by the former rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during and after the conflict are being investigated by the EU-named US prosecutor John Clint Williamson and Belgrade said he was informed about this witness.
Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty alleged in a hard-hitting 2010 report that senior KLA commanders - including current Kosovo prime minister Hashim Thaci - were involved in illegal organ trafficking.
The report said that organs were taken from the bodies of prisoners, many of them Serbs, held by the KLA in Albania at the time.
Thaci as well as Albania have denied the accusations and condemned Marty's report, as well as Sunday's revealing of the witness and his claims.
The witness, with only his hands and torso visible, explained in detail how he had been trained by “doctors” to harvest a heart from a prisoner at an undisclosed location.
“He (a doctor) told me what should I do on the body… to make a cut from a throat to the end of ribs,” the witness described the impromptu training organised several days before the surgery.
The ethnicity of the patient was not revealed in the interview, but Vukcevic told AFP the victim was a Serb prisoner, while the operation had been carried out near the northern Albanian town of Kukes.
The victim, a man in his 20s, was tied to tables in a school classroom by four rebels.
“When I came closer he was trying to get away but they tied him more. He began crying, begging,'God, do not slaughter me, do not kill me!’ “ the witness said.
Dressed in a black long-sleeve T-shirt, the man explained the procedure in details, saying that the two doctors had also been present at the scene, with a cooling box prepared for transport of organs.
“When I finished the first cut, I was told to make another one, a cross section… The third line did the doctor himself seeing that my hand was shaking. He told me not to worry,” the witness said.
As another doctor had forgotten the scissors, the witness proposed to make them from a “bayonet” of a Kalashnikov and was told “where to cut the ribs” with a warning “not to damage something, meaning, the heart.”
A doctor “put both his hands into the body, pulled and opened it” while another man had brought the cooling box. As they had no “pegs for vessels to prevent bleeding… we had to take a nylon, like a fishing one, to tie twice on each cut.”
“We cut veins and when I took the heart, it was still beating… I put it in the box” for transport, he said.
It was then taken to the airport in Albania's capital Tirana, where the rebels, including the witness, were met by several Albanian army officials.
The box was given to a “foreigner” coming out from a “small private plane” with a Turkish flag, the witness said.
The wartime organ harvesting case is believed to be linked to the so-called Medicus affair, another case of organ trafficking at a hospital in Kosovo's main city Pristina.
Seven people, mostly doctors, are on trial before an EU-run court there on charges of illegally transplanting organs at the Medicus Clinic.
The case came to light in 2008 after police opened an investigation into the collapse of a young Turk at the Pristina airport following a kidney donation to an Israeli man. - Sapa-AFP