By GARENTINA KRAJA
Associated Press Writer
31 March 2005
Associated Press Newswires
(c) 2005. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
MERDARE, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) - Serbian authorities on Thursday returned the bodies of 43 ethnic Albanians who were killed in the war in Kosovo and buried in a mass grave in Serbia.
The bodies, which were exhumed from a grave on the grounds of a police training center just outside Belgrade, were handed over to U.N. officials in the border area of Merdare, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the provincial capital, Pristina.
Dozens of relatives and friends of people missing since the war filed past white body bags, some laying flowers and weeping.
Among them was Xhafer Veliu, 50, from a central Kosovo village. He hopes one day to learn the fate of his 18-year old son, one of the thousands still listed as missing and presumed dead.
"There's no pressure being put on Serbia to tell us where our loved ones are," he said, clutching a single flower.
About 836 bodies presumed to be those of ethnic Albanians killed during Kosovo's 1998-99 war and removed from the province in an apparent cover-up attempt by Yugoslav forces have been found in several mass graves in Serbia.
The bodies were exhumed after the 2000 ouster of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Thursday's transfer brought the number of bodies returned to Kosovo to 441, said Valerie Brasey of the U.N.-run office for missing persons and forensics.
The relatives of the missing have repeatedly demanded that all the bodies be returned immediately.
The remains of those repatriated Thursday will be taken to a U.N.-run laboratory in the province to undergo forensic inspection and be identified before they are returned to the families for burial.
Earlier this month, Serbian and Kosovo officials resumed talks aimed at establishing the fate of ethnic Albanians, Serbs and others who vanished during the war -- one of the most sensitive and emotionally charged issues between the two former foes.
The two sides signed a framework document and agreed to accept the Red Cross list of 2,960 still missing as their figure of reference. The officials agreed to meet again on June 9 in Pristina.
Kosovo's war claimed an estimated 10,000 lives, mostly ethnic Albanians. The conflict ended after NATO launched air strikes to halt the crackdown of Milosevic's troops on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.