PRISTINA (AP)--Serbian authorities Wednesday were returning the bodies of 84 ethnic Albanians killed during the 1998-99 Kosovo war - the largest single return of war dead in the province.
The bodies, which were exhumed from a mass grave on the grounds of a police training center just outside Belgrade, will be handed over to their families and U.N. officials in the border area of Merdare, 25 miles north of the provincial capital, Pristina.
The remains are believed to be those of ethnic Albanian civilians killed by Serb forces during the war and removed from Kosovo in an apparent cover-up attempt by former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. NATO launched a bombing campaign in 1999 to halt the crackdown of his troops on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Since then the province has been administered by the United Nations.
Authorities in Serbia said that, out of 836 bodies of Kosovo Albanians found in mass graves in Serbia, 566 had been identified and nearly 500 returned to their families. The remaining 270 bodies were expected to be identified by the end of the year.
The families have repeatedly demanded that all the war dead exhumed be returned immediately. Nearly 3,000 people were still listed as missing.
Hundreds of bodies recovered from mass graves in Kosovo and Serbia were to be identified through the matching of DNA from bone samples with that of the relatives of missing people.
Earlier this year, 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.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires