News 19 Feb 15

New Kosovo Mass Grave Searches Planned in Serbia

Officials in Pristina said searches are planned at two more locations near the Serbian town of Raska after the remains of 52 Kosovo Albanian war victims were exhumed there last year.

Petrit Collaku, Marija Ristic
BIRN
Pristina, Belgrade
Coffins containing the remains of Kosovo war victims found at the Rudnica quarry.

Kushtrim Gara, a member of the Kosovo government’s missing persons commission, told BIRN that searches for bodies of Albanians killed by Serbian forces during the late 1990s war would be carried out at the two new locations.

Gara said that the searches would be conducted at a pond where mining waste was dumped and a lake close to where the other bodies were discovered last year at the Rudnica quarry near Raska.

He said that Kosovo and Serbia’s missing persons commissions would meet and discuss the issue soon.

“First, there is a need for an evaluation of the sites from the Serbian side. There is a need for an initial excavation to see what’s in there,” he explained.

The remains of the 52 people’s bodies exhumed last year were identified as ethnic Albanians killed by Belgrade’s forces during the late 1990s war and the victims were mainly from the villages of Rrezalle/Rezala and Cikatove e Vjeter/Staro Cikatovo in the Skenderaj/Srbica municipality. They have all since been repatriated to Kosovo.

The Kosovo justice ministry’s Department of Forensic Medicine and the EU rule-of-law mission in Kosovo, EULEX carried out the exhumations last year in Rudnica. But EULEX refused to comment on the possibility of searches at new locations.

Arsim Gerxhaliu, the head of the Department of Forensic Medicine, said that Kosovo team was in Serbia ten days ago and visited two different locations but he refused to give their names.

The Serbian commission for missing persons said meanwhile that it was checking all the information from its counterpart in Kosovo about the possible location of the mass graves, but would not confirm that they were suspected to be near Raska.

The Serbian prosecution has said it is already investigating the circumstances that led to the removal of bodies from Kosovo and their burial at Rudnica, in cooperation with EULEX. It said that several witnesses have been questioned but declined to reveal whether any suspects have been identified yet.

The Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre has accused the current head of the Serbian Army, Ljubisa Dikovic, of being responsible for the removal of the bodies while he was the commander of the 37th Brigade of the Yugoslav Army in 1999. But Dikovic has strongly denied any involvement.

Gara said meanwhile that Pristina’s missing persons commission was also going to search 20 locations inside Kosovo this year after receiving information about suspected mass graves.

A total of 69 missing persons from the Kosovo war were identified in 2014. Another 1,653 people remain unaccounted for.

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