news 17 Jul 12

Fire Damages Kosovo Exhumation Site

EULEX says that fire has caused extensive damage to a suspected mass grave site in Zhilivoda, northern Kosovo.

Fatmir Aliu
BIRN
Pristina

EU’s Rule of Law Mission to Kosovo, EULEX, has launched an investigation to find out the causes of the fire which broke out over the weekend at the exhumation site in Zhilivoda.

EULEX said that the fire caused “extensive damage” to the site, at the exact location where the exhumation was taking place.

“This is a significant set-back for our site assessment. There has been considerable damage to walls which will now have to be demolished. The excavation work has been put on hold,” said Alan Robinson, Co-Head of the Department of Forensic Medicine in a press release on Tuesday.

Work was suspended on Monday at the largest suspected mass grave to be found in Kosovo for many years.

The fire-fighters spent two days fighting the blaze at the exhumation site, before bringing the fire under control on Monday afternoon. According to EULEX, a 12 meter high wall was in flames.

Robinson said that EULEX would evaluate how safe it is to continue their excavations, and that it is too early to say when the forensics team can return to the site.

But Kosovo’s government says that the fire will not affect the timetable of the exhumation project.

“According to the plans of the Missing Persons Inter-Ministerial Commission, we will complete the excavation and assessment of the site at Zhilivoda very shortly, bringing this project officially to a close,” said Prenk Gjetaj, the head of the Governments Missing Persons Commission, in a press release.

The exhumation at Zhilivoda, a small village in the municipality of Vushtrri/Vucitrn began on August 31, 2010. Since then, the work has twice been interrupted by bad weather conditions. The area is one of the biggest potential exhumation sites discovered in Kosovo in the past few years.

Because of the size of the area, the EULEX Department of Forensic Medicine is logistically supported by the Kosovo Security Forces, KSF, who are using their heavy machinery to reach some 30 meters underground where the alleged mass grave is located.

There are no official figures concerning the number of bodies in the mass grave but a Belgrade delegation said recently that it suspects that the remains of more than 20 Kosovo Serbs may be found there.

EULEX forensic experts plan to assess more than thirty suspected sites of mass graves this year, as part of their ongoing search for missing people from the Kosovo war and its aftermath.

Thirteen years after the end of the war in Kosovo, over 1,700 of the 6,019 people reported missing to the International Red Cross by their families are still unaccounted for. The majority of the missing are Kosovo Albanians.

 

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