Kosovo: "a widely publicized grave site said to hold 350 bodies only held five"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu Nov 11 08:01:52 MST 1999

NY Times, November 11, 1999

Early Count Hints at Fewer Kosovo Deaths


PRISTINA, Kosovo -- In five months of investigation and exhumation of the
dead in Kosovo, war crimes investigators have found 2,108 bodies in grave
sites throughout the province, the chief prosecutor announced on Wednesday.

While there are several hundred more reported sites to be examined in the
spring, the number of the dead found so far seems significantly lower than
the estimate of 10,000 ethnic Albanians killed by the Serbs, issued by
Western officials, or the suggestion by American and allied officials
during the war that up to 100,000 were being killed.

In a report to the United Nations Security Council in New York, also
released here, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal
for the former Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, said that the bodies had been
found in 195 sites before work stopped for the winter, and that there were
a total of 529 sites reported to investigators so far.

Mrs. Del Ponte cautioned that the number of dead was an interim figure, and
noted that "we have discovered evidence of tampering with graves,"
particularly at well-publicized suspected massacre sites like Izbica, where
investigators found no bodies after the Serbian forces left Kosovo, but
freshly turned earth.

"There are also a significant number of sites where the precise number of
bodies cannot be counted," she said, adding that in some places bodies had
been burned and other steps taken to hide the evidence.

But a long investigation of the Trepca mine, where Albanians said many
bodies were brought for incineration, turned up no evidence of any crime.
Similarly, at Ljubenic, near Pec, a widely publicized grave site said to
hold 350 bodies only held five.

A draft report by the State Department noted that an average of only 17
bodies were found at examined sites, but says: "We would expect the total
number of Kosovar Albanian deaths to be over 8,000" once all the graves are

Still, senior Western officials here say that the investigators did look at
the most serious sites first. While it is unlikely that a firm and final
death toll will ever be known, they suggested that a figure of between
5,000 and 7,000 will be more likely. Some suggested that 5,000 would be
more logical, given what has been found to date, and noting the simple
difficulty of killing large numbers of people and disposing of them quickly.

But officials also cautioned that some of the dead are fighters of the
Kosovo Liberation Army or may have died ordinary deaths.

Mrs. Del Ponte and her aides also noted that the tribunal's main job was
not to take a census of the dead, but to prepare legal material to seek or
extend indictments for war crimes against those most reponsible for the
abuses of the Kosovar Albanians.

"We now have in our possession invaluable documentation of what happened to
many people in many places in Kosovo," Mrs. Del Ponte said. "There is no
substitute for this kind of accurate information because it is evidence
that eventually will stand up in a court of law."

Kelly Moore, the tribunal spokeswoman here, said: "A prosecutor is not a
statistician. The job is to gather evidence for prosecutions."

Ms. Moore noted that of the indictments on war crimes charges against
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four other top Yugoslav and
Serbian officials, two charges cover the killings of Albanians, but two
also cover their forced expulsion, deportation and persecution.

More than 800,000 Albanians were forced from their homes and out of Kosovo,
while many more thousands were living rough in the hills inside the
province. Albanian human rights groups note that several thousand Albanians
are reported missing, and it is unclear how many of them may still be in
Serbian jails -- nearly 2,000 according to the International Committee of
the Red Cross -- or abroad or dead but undiscovered.

Blerim Shala, the editor of the Albanian weekly Zeri and a member of the
Kosovo Transitional Council here, said that a respected Albanian human
rights group, the Kosovo Board for the Protection of Human Rights,
estimates that 7,000 Albanians were killed during the war. Another 2,500
were killed in the previous year, beginning March 1998, when the conflict
between the Serbs and the Kosovo Liberation Army intensified. Another 3,000
or so are believed to be missing, Shala said.

Daan Everts, the director of the mission in Kosovo for the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe, said that morally the final number is
not especially relevant, and noted that those who were killed and abused
were the subject of all the powers of an organized state.

"We don't know how many people are still in the ground," he said. "And
whether the number is smaller or larger doesn't take away from the massive
and organized violation of human rights by a state."

Graham Blewitt, the tribunal's deputy chief prosecutor, told reporters at
the United Nations that motive and method were more important legally than
the number of victims in proving genocide. "It's really not a numbers game
to determine whether genocide has been committed," he said.

During the war, however, estimated death figures were very high. On April
19, the State Department said that up to 500,000 Kosovar Albanians were
missing and feared dead. On May 16, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said
that up to 100,000 Albanian men in Kosovo had vanished and might have been
killed. "We've now seen about 100,000 military-aged men missing," Cohen
told CBS News. "They may have been murdered."

On June 17, a British Foreign Office Minister, Geoff Hoon, said: "According
to the reports we have gathered, mostly from the refugees, it appears that
around 10,000 people have been killed in more than 100 massacres." On Aug.
2, Bernard Kouchner, the United Nations chief administrator in Kosovo, said
11,000 ethnic Albanians were killed, and said his figure came from the
Tribunal, which denied providing it.

A Spanish forensic team's experience has been typical. According to the
newspaper El Pais, the team was told to prepare for at least 2,000
autopsies. But it found 187 bodies, usually buried in individual graves.

The El Pais report has led to some revise their expectations of the death
toll, which Mrs. Del Ponte's report sought to clarify on Wednesday.

Wednesday, in Pristina, the NATO-led peacekeeping troops issued murder
statistics since June 12, when NATO took control of the province. Of the
379 people killed, 135 were Serbs, a disproportionate number given that
only about 5 percent of the province's current population is believed to be
Serbian. Of the rest, 145 were ethnic Albanians, while 99 are of unknown or
other ethnicity, said Maj. Ole Irgens, a spokesman for the force.

According to a report about to be released by the International Crisis
Group, the number of killings now in Kosovo is comparable to the levels
reported before the NATO intervention, when the Serbs were struggling to
defeat the Kosovo Liberation Army. The figure is roughly 30 people killed a
week in a province with a current estimated population of 1.4 million.

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company

Louis Proyect

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