The Promise of Justice : Burning the Evidence  

OSCE says no sign of mass burnings found in Kosovo

Associated Press Writer
January 26, 2001

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) - Investigators found no evidence that would substantiate a report that forces loyal to former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic burned the bodies of hundreds of ethnic Albanians in a blast furnace before pulling out of Kosovo, an international organization said Friday.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was reacting to a report aired Thursday by National Public Radio. Prepared by American Radio Works, the documentary unit of Minnesota Public Radio, the report included interviews with men who said they were involved in a clandestine operation intended to cover up atrocities that could lead to war crimes charges.

They said up to 1,500 bodies were burned at the Trepca lead refinery, accounting for about half the Kosovo Albanians still missing more than 1 1/2 years after Milosevic's forces pulled out of the province.

Rumors of such mass burnings have circulated since the pullout in mid-1999.

"Our people have had a report of this, but they found no evidence to substantiate it," OSCE spokeswoman Claire Trevena said.

Along with the United Nations and NATO, the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe plays a key role in running Kosovo.

Trevena said a French forensic team with sophisticated equipment called to search for remains of any bodies at Trepca found nothing there.

At the time of the investigation, in the latter half of 1999, senior French police officials in Kosovo said the furnace at Trepca had stopped operating shortly after the start of the crackdown on Kosovo Albanians in late March and remained unused beyond the time Milosevic's forces pulled out.

Ashes at the site examined by the team also showed no traces that would back up the reports, they said.

In Thursday's radio report, the men, identified only by their first names, said bodies were unearthed from freshly dug graves later identified by NATO satellites gathering evidence of possible Serb atrocities in Kosovo.

Milosevic is under indictment by the U.N. tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands, for alleged involvement in the Kosovo atrocities. But the new Yugoslav leadership refuses to extradite him.

At The Hague, Graham Blewitt, the U.N. tribunal's deputy prosecutor, said tribunal investigations at the Trepca mine also "couldn't confirm" bodies had been disposed of by burning but suggested it was extremely difficult using traditional methods to arrive at a definite conclusion.

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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