PRISTINA, Kosovo - Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said Thursday that a report suggesting he was the head of a criminal gang behind a grisly trade in the kidneys of slain civilian detainees was "monstrous" and "scandalous."
Thaci, in his first public appearance since the publication of the report by Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty, said the allegations were aimed at hurting Kosovo's image.
"The world knows who was the aggressor and who were the victims in Kosovo," Thaci said, referring to crimes committed by former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic against ethnic Albanians during the 1998-99 war. "These tendencies to change history, to equate the aggressor and the victim . . . will fail again."
In an address broadcast live on Kosovo's public television, the former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army said he felt "deeply offended" by the allegations. "As prime minister, citizen of Kosovo, and a father, I feel deeply offended," Thaci said. "Truth and justice are on our side."
Marty, a Swiss senator, told reporters in Paris that "inhuman" treatment of people and illicit trafficking of human organs in the immediate aftermath of the country's war for independence from Serbia remained unpunished.
His report, made public late Tuesday, alleged that civilian detainees of the KLA rebels were shot to death to sell their kidneys on the black market and suggested that Thaci was once the "boss" of a criminal underworld behind the trafficking.
Thaci dismissed the allegations as "ill-intentioned propaganda," 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 "satisfaction" Thursday with Marty's report, adding that their investigation of organ trafficking in the region represented "an important source" for the report.
Serbian war-crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said that up to 500 people had been the victims of this "classic organized-crime" operation, of which about 400 were Serbs, while some were Albanians, he said. Marty declined to specify how many people were killed for their organs.
Thaci called on Marty to provide evidence to judicial institutions. Thaci also said he planned to pursue "all possible legal and political action" to counter the allegations.