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Yugoslavia: Discovery Of Mass Graves May Tie Milosevic To War Crimes

By Kit Kadlec

Serbian authorities said yesterday they may have found three mass graves believed to contain the remains of ethnic Albanians killed in the 1999 war in Kosovo. RFE/RL correspondent Kit Kadlec reports that Serbian police have already indicated they believe former President Slobodan Milosevic may have ordered the cover-up of Kosovo civilian casualties.

Prague, 6 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic announced yesterday in Belgrade that a mass grave has been discovered that is believed to hold the bodies of Kosovo Albanians killed in Kosovo in 1999. He said two other possible gravesites have also been discovered, but did not give details.

Mihajlovic said the first grave was found earlier this week when a team of Serbian experts uncovered the remains of 86 people near Belgrade. It is suspected that the bodies were of those originally found in a refrigerated truck on the bottom of the Danube River in April 1999, and then later buried in a mass grave.

Serbian police opened an investigation into the incident after press reports quoted a bus driver who said he had taken part in an operation to recover the truck from the bottom of the Danube near Kladovo, an eastern Serbian city near the Romanian border.

Mihajlovic says investigators have now determined that the mass grave is not believed to hold all the bodies from the refrigerated truck:

"The data shows that there are [also] corpses from the refrigerator truck elsewhere, buried in mass graves that were found in the vicinity of Belgrade. According to the operational data, this is not the only location where bodies from Kosovo have been found. So far we have indications that there are at least two other possible locations still containing an undetermined number of victims. We are verifying this data."

Mihajlovic also says evidence indicates that the 86 bodies found on the truck were brought to Serbia from Kosovo during the 78-day (March 24 through June 12) NATO bombing campaign in 1999.

He added that a team of experts was now looking into the incident. He said he did not expect results from the investigation anytime soon.

One of the major questions for investigators is who was responsible for covering up the crimes. Dragan Karleusa, a top Serbian Interior Ministry official, last week claimed that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ordered all traces of civilian casualties during the 1999 crackdown on ethnic Albanians by the Yugoslav army and police to be destroyed.

Milosevic was arrested two months ago on charges of abuse of office over the course of his 13-year rule. Karleusa's statement marks the first time Yugoslavia has linked Milosevic to war crimes -- in this case, the deliberate targeting of civilians during wartime.

Toma Fila, Milosevic's lawyer, says the former president told him he knew nothing about the refrigerator truck. The United Nations war crimes tribunal indicted Milosevic in 1999 for war crimes committed by Yugoslav troops -- allegedly under his orders -- in mainly ethnic-Albanian Kosovo. The tribunal wants Milosevic to be handed over as soon as possible.

Earlier this week, the Yugoslav army officially denied any involvement in the transfer of the bodies. A statement released by the army's headquarters dismissed press rumors that the Serbian Police Ministry had implicated the army for destroying evidence about the case.

Mihajlovic also denied reports that the Interior Ministry had prior knowledge of Yugoslav army command involvement in the operation, which the Milosevic regime allegedly dubbed the "battlefield sanitation" of Kosovo.

However Mihajlovic confirmed that the chief military prosecutor has demanded all available information on the case.