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Yugoslavia: U.S. Report Contends Serbs Killed 10,000 Kosovars

Washington, 10 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- An updated U.S. government report contends that a campaign orchestrated by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic caused the deaths of at least 10,000 ethnic Albanians in Serbia's Kosovo province earlier this year.

The report released Thursday by the U.S. State Department asserted that Serb paramilitary units and federal Yugoslav troops engaged in Europe's worst campaign of atrocities and ethnic cleansing since the Second World War -- a campaign that ended in June only after the NATO alliance intervened with massive air strikes against targets in Kosovo, Belgrade and other cities.

The report, entitled "Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo: An Accounting," was intended as a follow-up to a U.S. report on the alleged atrocities that was issued in May.

At a press conference Thursday, the State Department's ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, David Scheffer, said at least 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed. However, he said the true death toll may never be known.

"We will never know the full extent of Kosovar Albanian victims of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Our best estimate is that the number of Kosovar Albanians killed is on the order of magnitude of 10,000. We may revise this as more is learned."

Scheffer added that more than 1.5 million ethnic Albanians were forcibly expelled from their homes, that tens of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed and that an unknown number of other atrocities were committed from March through June by the Milosevic's forces.

Scheffer also said that investigators knew from the outset that Serb authorities conducted a systematic campaign to destroy and conceal evidence of their alleged crimes.

"We know Serbian forces made many efforts in Kosovo to destroy evidence of their crimes against humanity and war crimes. We expected this, based on the well-orchestrated efforts by Bosnian Serb authorities in 1995 to conceal or destroy much of the evidence of the 7,000 men killed at Srebrenica. The efforts by Serbian forces to destroy evidence of their crimes in Kosovo in 1999 came as no surprise to us and we were prepared. "

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Human Rights, Democracy and Labor, Harold Hongju Koh, said the purpose of the report was to put all of the horrible details about Kosovo into one place.

"Since February we've all been witnesses to a brutal historical episode, the largest mass expulsion of people in Europe since the 1940s, the killing of thousands, and a premeditated campaign of looting, burning and forced detentions. When such a campaign of atrocities unfolds before our eyes, it's sometimes hard to fathom all of its facets. The report that we are releasing today, "Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo: An Accounting," seeks to lay out in one place what we know about ethnic cleansing that occurred in Kosovo before NATO arrived in June of this year."

"This report, which has been prepared by the department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, my Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and the Office of War Crimes Issues, follows and builds upon an earlier State Department report by the same offices that was issued on May 10th entitled "Erasing History: Ethnic Cleaning in Kosovo".

Koh also there is still much unfinished business in Kosovo.

"The first function of human rights reporting is truth-telling. But human rights reporting is only part of the unfinished human rights business in Kosovo and Serbia as a whole. As important as what we have learned is what we still do not know. Five months after the UN and NATO arrived in Kosovo we're still piecing together what is undeniably a widespread and systematic attempt to cleanse Kosovo of much of its Kosovar Albanian population. As I speak, the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague has only exhumed about 200 out of 500 known crime scenes. "

The U.S. report follows one issued recently by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which said revenge-motivated violence has accelerated since NATO-led peacekeepers arrived in Kosovo.