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In Kosovo, Mother Continues Fight To Learn Truth About Missing Son

Nesrete Kumnova in front of the picture of her only son, Albion, who has been missing since May 1999, on International Day of Missing Persons on August 30, more than 13 years after she last saw him.
PRISTINA -- Nesrete Kumnova says it was "with a lot of pain" that she removed a photograph of her missing son, Albion, from a fence near Kosovo's parliament.

Photos of hundreds of young men and women missing since the Kosovo war were posted there in a January 2005 protest organized by Kumnova, founder of a group called Mothers' Cries.

Since then, the fence has served as a memorial and a reminder to the authorities of the need to resolve questions about the fate of the missing.

But on August 30, the International Day of the Disappeared, relatives took the photographs down under an agreement with Kosovo's authorities. In return, the government is erecting a permanent memorial to war victims at another location in the capital, Pristina.

'Sole Request'

Like 1,700 other families in Kosovo, Kumnova still doesn't know what happened to her son. She has no doubt that Albion is dead. But she has never found his remains.

She last saw Albion in their hometown of Gjakova in western Kosovo when he was 20 years old. That was in May 1999 when Serbian and Yugoslav security forces, along with Serbian paramilitary fighters, forcibly expelled most of the ethnic Albanian population from the town.

More than 13 years after the 1998-99 war, Kumnova is still fighting to learn the truth about Albion's fate.

"It has been extremely difficult, for me as a mother, and for all the mothers in Kosovo, to knock on every door for the past 13 years -- doors of domestic and international institutions -- with the sole request, to resolve the fate of our loved ones," Kumnova says.

Albion Kumnova and other disappeared Kosovars on the wall of the missing in Pristina (file photo)
Albion Kumnova and other disappeared Kosovars on the wall of the missing in Pristina (file photo)
The bodies of hundreds of victims of atrocities have been discovered in mass graves since the war. Some still lie in morgues awaiting positive identification.

Mass Graves

EULEX, the European Union's legal mission in Kosovo, has identified 30 other suspected mass graves it plans to investigate.

Kumnova says it's time for excavations in Kosovo and a suspected mass grave in Serbia's Raska region to be completed so relatives can move on with their lives.

"It is a sin on the part of domestic and international institutions that the remains of our loved ones are still in the graves dug by Serbia's criminals," Kumnova says. "They don't deserve this. They deserve to be returned to their country, as they died for its freedom. It is an enormous spiritual grief haunting mothers, fathers, wives, and children."

There have also been difficulties finding Serbs who disappeared in the Kosovo war.

In July, EULEX suspended exhumation work at a suspected mass grave near the village of Zhilvode after fire damaged the site.

But two weeks later, EULEX acting co-chief Krassimir Nikolov announced that no human remains had been found there during two years of excavations. EULEX says its search for 25 missing Serbs will continue.

Families of missing Serbs say they suspect the fire was set intentionally to destroy evidence of a war crime. But EULEX says no potential evidence could have been destroyed because the fire was "only superficial."

On August 29, Amnesty International called on governments across the Balkans to investigate the fate of 14,000 people still unaccounted for since the wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Altogether, nearly 35,000 people were initially reported missing as a result of enforced disappearances or abductions during the Balkan wars.

Written by Ron Synovitz in Prague based on reporting by Arbana Vidishiqi in Pristina