MERDARE, Serbia-Montenegro, March 31, 2006 (AFP) -
Serbia on Friday returned the remains of 52 ethnic Albanians killed during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war after their exhumation from a mass grave near Belgrade.
More than 200 members of victims' families were at the handover of the remains in Merdare, a village on the administrative border between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia.
They put flowers around forensic plastic sacks containing the remains, temporarily laid out in an improvised tent on the Kosovo side, while Serbian authorities and the province's UN representatives finalised the transfer.
Hafize Alia, a 47-year-old housewife from Mitrovica, said she has been attending every transfer from Serbia in the hope of finding out the fate of her brother who went missing seven years ago.
"It is not the first time I have not got any information on my brother. It is not fair to play on our nerves and feelings for so long. We have no words to explain our emotions," she said.
After the handover, the remains were transported to a UN-run morgue in the southern town of Orahovac for forensic analysis, DNA identification and eventual return to their families.
About 800 ethnic Albanian civilians killed in Kosovo during the war were secretly transferred and buried in Serbia by the regime of late Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.
Following Milosevic's ouster by a popular uprising in October 2000, Belgrade authorities uncovered four mass graves in Serbia that have since been exhumed.
The remains delivered to Kosovo on Friday were mostly of people originally from southwestern Kosovo. They were the last to be exhumed from a mass grave at Batajnica, near Belgrade.
The remains of over 700 victims have been returned to Kosovo in 18 transfers between Serbia and the UN mission that has run Kosovo since the war.
"The remains of some 90 unidentified victims that have been exhumed are still in Serbia. The Serbian side promised to return them by June," said Arsim Gerxhalliu, Kosovo forensic expert.
The Red Cross says some 2,398 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, are still listed as missing from the war.