By DUSAN STOJANOVIC
(c) 2005. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) - Serbia's war crimes prosecutors, acting under intense international and domestic pressure, said Wednesday they will file charges against the Serbs suspected of executing and burying hundreds of Kosovo Albanians in mass graves in Serbia.
An estimated 835 ethnic Albanians, including women and children, were buried in three mass graves in central Serbia during the 1998-99 Kosovo war, in an apparent bid by former president Slobodan Milosevic to cover up evidence of war crimes in Kosovo.
Bruno Vekaric, a spokesman of the Serbian war crimes prosecution office, said that by the end of this year "we could expect charges to be filed against persons" connected with the existence of the mass graves.
The pro-Western Serbian authorities who ousted Milosevic in 2000 revealed a year later the location of the mass graves, including one located within a special police compound in Batajnica, just outside Belgrade.
Since then, hundreds of bodies have been unearthed from the graves and returned to their families in Kosovo. The autopsies performed on the bodies found in Batajnica have shown that the victims were shot to death and not killed in the fighting.
No charges have been filed so far. Serbs who fought ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are still revered here as war heroes.
But, amid heavy pressure from domestic and international human rights groups, an investigation has been conducted both in Serbia and in Kosovo to determine who is to blame.
"More than 60 witnesses, including Albanians in Kosovo, have been questioned in the investigation," Vekaric said, refusing to provide further details in order not to hamper pretrial proceedings.
Thousands of people, mostly ethnic Albanians, were 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 NATO to bomb Serbia for 78 days in 1999 to force Milosevic to pull out his troops from Kosovo and relinquish control to the United Nations and NATO.
Milosevic is currently being tried at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, for the atrocities committed in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia.