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Bodies of 250 Albanian war victims found in mass grave

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-05-11

The bodies of 250 people believed to be Albanians killed during the 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo have been found at a mass grave site in Serbia with help from EU police.

AFP - Serbia has uncovered a mass grave believed to contain the bodies of some 250 ethnic Albanians killed during the 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo, its war crimes prosecutor told AFP on Monday.

"Serbia's war crimes prosecution office and EULEX (the EU's law and police mission in Kosovo) together uncovered the mass grave with presumably 250 bodies of Kosovo Albanians," prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said.

The grave was found in a pond at a quarry in the southwestern Serbian town of Raska, near the border with Kosovo, he said.

Exhumation is expected to begin soon, after the number of victims was estimated from witness statements and analysis of aerial photographs.

"This is more proof that Serbia does not shy away from its dark past and is ready to bring to justice all those who have committed crimes" regardless of their nationality or position, Vukcevic said.

During the conflict, security forces controlled by then strongman Slobodan Milosevic transported the remains of hundreds of ethnic Albanian civilians to several locations in Serbia, including the capital Belgrade, in a bid to cover up mass killings and war crimes.

In 2001, the remains of more than 830 Kosovo Albanians were found at three sites in Serbia.

Over 700 bodies were uncovered in a mass grave located within a special anti-terrorist police unit's compound in the Belgrade suburb of Batajnica suburb.

Seventy-seven other corpses were found in the same police unit's training centre in the eastern Serbian town of Petrovo Selo, and 50 bodies were uncovered nearby the western Serbian town of Perucac.

Former top police official and Serbian deputy interior minister during the Kosovo conflict, Vlastimir Djordjevic, is believed to have ordered the vast cover-up operation.

Djordjevic is currently on trial before the Hague-based UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on charges of deportation, forcible transfer, murder and persecution of Kosovo Albanians during the conflict.

According to the provisional list of a joint Kosovo-Serbian working group tasked with shedding light on the fate of persons unaccounted for in the Kosovo war, 1,862 people are still missing. More than 1,000 are ethnic Albanians.

The conflict in Kosovo claimed around 13,000 victims, most of them ethnic Albanians. The war ended after a NATO bombing campaign in 1999 ousted Serb armed forces from the province, which was then put under UN administration.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 -- a move recognised by the United States and most EU member states, but challenged by Belgrade.

Date created : 2010-05-10