Thursday, December 09, 2004

Head of missing persons bureau in Kosovo demands speedy return of bodies from Serbia

A U.N. official called on Serbian authorities Thursday to speed up the process of sending home the bodies of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo killed during the 1998-1999 war in the province.

Jose-Pablo Baraybar, who heads the U.N. office of missing persons and forensics in Kosovo, said that the return to Kosovo of the remains of ethnic Albanians exhumed from mass graves in Serbia since 2000 has been "extremely slow."

Since the ouster of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, 836 bodies presumed to be those of ethnic Albanians have been found in several mass graves in Serbia, but only 354 have been returned to their families in Kosovo, Baraybar said.

The bodies were sent from Kosovo to Serbia after the war in an apparent coverup attempt by Milosevic. NATO launched a bombing campaign in 1999 to halt the crackdown of his troops on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

"It is our priority to keep the pressure up to bring back all the bodies," Baraybar said.

Kosovo is currently administered by the United Nations. The issue of the missing persons remains one of the most sensitive and emotionally charged unresolved issue between former foes.

"Kosovo is one of the most exhumed places in the world," Baraybar said, referring to over 1,000 exhumations conducted by his office in search for remains.

There are 3,192 persons that are still considered missing as a result of the war in Kosovo, he said. Of those, 2,460 are Kosovo Albanians, 529 Serbs and 203 belonged to other ethnic communities.

Most of them are considered dead and their bodies have been recovered from mass graves in Kosovo and Serbia and are awaiting identification by matching DNA from bone samples of the victims with that of their relatives, he said.

Baraybar also called on ethnic Albanians to come forward with information regarding the whereabouts of the Serb victims.

"That is the best kept secret in Kosovo," he said.

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