The Kalluci family seem horrified at claims their remote Albanian farmhouse was the scene of grisly organ harvesting of war prisoners from neighboring Kosovo almost a decade ago.
In her book published in April, former UN chief war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte alleged Kosovo Albanian guerrillas used a “yellow” house to remove organs from hundreds of victims for the black market.
“This story has become a nightmare,” bemoans Mersin Kalluci, who lives in the dilapidated house in the village of Ripa with his wife, their five children and his father.
“How can anyone believe that 300 people could be buried near the road without being seen by any of the 1,000 inhabitants,” he said, of the town of Burrel, some 20km away.
The victims were mainly Serbs but also other non-Albanians kidnapped in Kosovo at the end of its war in mid-1999 and taken across its rugged but porous border into Albania to be locked up, Del Ponte wrote.
They were deprived of a kidney before being imprisoned again until being killed for other vital organs, she wrote in the book The Hunt: Me and War Criminals, citing unnamed UN officials and journalists.
Since the book’s release, a steep and winding dirt track leading to the Kalluci home, which is now white, has been increasingly trodden by foreign journalists.
Interest in the case has grown, with Serbia’s war crimes prosecution preparing evidence while the Council of Europe is expected to send investigating envoy Dick Marty to Belgrade, Pristina and Tirana next month.
The case was originally probed in March 2004 by a forensic team of the UN interim mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which found “no conclusive evidence” of blood at the house from criminal acts, its report said. But it said blood was detected in the kitchen and storeroom, without elaborating, and syringes were discovered outside along with “material fragment consistent with surgical overalls.”
“They searched everywhere inside, as well as outside,” Mersin Kalluci’s wife, Merita, said.
“After spraying one room of the house, they said they found traces of blood. It was from me,” she said, insisting it was from when she once gave birth.
An Albanian doctor said the organ-trafficking claims were unlikely to be true given the poor state of the house, which appears near collapse.
“How can anyone remove organs aimed for transplantation in such miserable conditions, in a house where men and cattle live under the same roof? It’s ridiculous,” said Edmond Celiku, a Tirana hospital surgeon.
Jose-Pablo Baraybar, the former chief of the UNMIK Office on Missing Persons and Forensics who headed the 2004 team, said his was only an initial probe and the case warranted further investigation.
“Based on what we found alone, [it] was kind of inconclusive. It was a preliminary investigation. With that information alone, no case could be built,” he said in a telephone interview from Peru.
Pressed to give his own opinion as a forensic pathologist on the likelihood of organ trafficking having taken place, Baraybar said: “I would say that I think it is probable. At the very least possible.”
In addition, the allegation that Serbs, Roma (Gypsies) or other non-Albanians were taken into Albania was “neglected for a long time, but it is totally true,” he said.
This, Baraybar said, was based on information from “eight different sources” on the kidnapping and transportation of the victims to the house, adding: “Obviously, we did not go there by chance.”