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Yugoslavia: Investigation Of Racak Killings Continues

  • Lisa McAdams

Prague, 28 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The state-run Yugoslav news agency Tanjug has said Serbian forensics experts will tomorrow (Friday) announce results of their investigation into the killings of some 40 (40 autopsied -- 45 killed) ethnic Albanian Kosovars earlier this month.

It is an announcement certain to be followed not only by the international community. A separate Finnish forensics team also conducting autopsies on those killed earlier this month in the Kosovar village of Racak will be following as well. The Finns, working on behalf of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), are working with local forensics experts and a team from Belarus.

Group leader Helena Ranta and her team have distanced themselves from the start from the Serbian forensics experts. The Serbs have already said the investigation shows no signs of the dead having been massacred, as the head of the OSCE, William Walker, has claimed.

Ranta, for her part, says the truth about how the people in Racak died "may never be known."

It is a sentiment shared by Grayham Bluitt, the Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Bluitt told RFE/RL this week that once a number of people get involved in the same forensics process the potential exists for that process to become, in his words, "contaminated." Bluitt also acknowledged that reports the bodies in Racak may have been tampered with while not under international supervision also shed doubt on the process.

"Under the circumstances its a bit difficult to imagine that the evidence coming out of [the autopsies] would be reliable because there would always be some doubt that somewhere along the way there was some interference with the evidence and hence the evidence becomes contaminated. That's why we're quite anxious ourselves to get in and do these investigations because we can preserve the continuity of the evidence."

Bluitt told our correspondent that the ongoing "stalemate" over ICTY access to Kosovo, which included the barring of UN war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour, was making matters "difficult." But he said several diplomatic efforts aimed at securing access were under way and that he was hopeful they would be successful. Bluitt added, however, that prosecutors don't always have to gain access to secure the truth and see that justice is done.

"We've demonstrated already in the past when we have not had access to certain parts of the territories of former Yugoslavia that we could nevertheless complete investigations and bring indictments. So, the possibility of that happening in respect to Kosovo still exists."

RFE/RL also spoke this week with OSCE spokesperson Melissa Fleming, whose organization has been in the forefront of calls for a wider investigation of Racak to include the Hague tribunal. She expressed "disappointment" that it was taking so long for Serb authorities to allow involvement by the ICTY, but said she still hoped a solution could be found.

"We believe there is an opening [for their participation]. Nevertheless, we are extremely disappointed it is taking so long. They should have had access before. An investigation of this nature needs to take place. This is a demand by NATO, the UN Security Council and, basically, the entire international community. So, we believe that with enough pressure this could happen."

Fleming added that the OSCE regrets it is still having to detail reports of violence in Kosovo on a daily basis. And she said this week's discovery of the potential "murder" of five more ethnic Albanian Kosovars, including two children, by machine-gun fire was of "extremely serious" concern. She said the OSCE hoped to get to the bottom of the matter soon in order that the perpetrator(s) could be brought to justice.

Bluitt stressed that there can be no "end date" for the process of gaining the truth, especially in light of growing international concerns of renewed violence among the Kosovo Liberation Army and Serbian forces with the coming of spring.