Thursday, December 30, 2004

Serbia Prosecutor:Albanians Buried Near Belgrade Executed

Serbia's war crimes prosecutor confirmed on Thursday that ethnic Albanians from Kosovo whose bodies were found in a mass grave near Belgrade, had been executed.

Vladimir Vukcevic told B92 radio and television station that the autopsies performed on the bodies found in the grave in Batajnica have shown that the victims were shot to death and not killed in the fighting during Kosovo's 1998-99 war.

"Those people were massively executed," Vukcevic was quoted as saying. "The autopsies showed that they were not victims of fighting."

Hundreds of slain ethnic Albanians, including women and children, were buried in mass graves in central Serbia during the 1998-99 Kosovo war, in a bid by former president Slobodan Milosevic to cover up evidence of war crimes.

The pro-Western Serbian authorities who ousted Milosevic in 2000 revealed a year later that at least three such mass graves existed in central Serbia, including the one located within a police compound in Batajnica, just outside Belgrade.

So far, hundreds of bodies have been unearthed from the graves and returned to their families in Kosovo. Vukcevic, who runs Serbia's special war crimes prosecutor's office, has launched an investigation into the case.

He told B92 that the investigative work in Batajnica was almost wrapped up and that the results will soon be made public. He did not reveal any other details, or say when the work on other two known mass graves will be finished.

Last week a prominent human rights group demanded that the parliament investigate how many mass graves exist in Serbia and whether bodies of slain ethnic Albanians were also burned in the republic's factories or buried in mines.

Thursday, B92 aired what it said was a testimony by an unidentified witness from southern Serbia who said he saw former state security and police officials go daily into a local factory in May 1999, during the Kosovo war. The witness said he heard "it had something to do with ethnic Albanian victims."

About 10,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, are believed to have been killed in Kosovo during the 1998-99 war which erupted when ethnic Albanian rebels took up arms to fight for independence from Serbia.

The brutality of the Serb response to the rebellion prompted the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to bomb Serbia for 78 days in 1999 to Milosevic to pull out his troops from Kosovo and relinquish control to the U.N. and NATO. [ 30-12-04 1719GMT ]

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