Grieving relatives refuse to allow the truth to be buried

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SRBICA (AP) - The Kosovo Albanians filed past 49 bodies, some charred or badly burned, trying to identify relatives who perished in last week's police crackdown in southern Yugoslavia's restive province.

At least three corpses were of young children; more than a dozen were women. Some were missing limbs, apparently lost in explosions. A few were charred beyond recognition. The Serbian police still kept watch. A troop carrier was parked 50 yards away, its gun pointed at the crowd of 50 mourners, mostly men. Police blocked main roads all around, forcing mourners to come on mountain paths, by foot or tractor, to the deserted town of Srbica, 25 miles west of Pristina, Kosovo's capital.

The ethnic Albanians refused to collect the bodies, insisting on autopsy by internationally appointed experts. They say the Serbs want to cover up atrocities by swiftly burying the dead.

The Serb sources deny it, saying the bodies are decomposing. On Tuesday, Serbian police threatened to bury the dead in a mass grave if the corpses are not collected. But it was not clear if they would carry out that threat.

In Pristina, Robert Gelbard, the American envoy to the Balkans, arrived on the elusive quest for a diplomatic solution to the latest Balkan violence. Mr Gelbard met the leader of the main ethnic Albanian party, Ibrahim Rugova, who advocates a peaceful struggle for Kosovo's independence from Serbia. Mr Gelbard on Monday met Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who in a statement from his office insisted that Kosovo's problems could be solved only in Serbia.

Adem Demaci, a Kosovo Albanian leader who spent decades in Serbian jails, said the outside world's reaction to the events in Kosovo was too weak to force Mr Milosevic into changing his stance. "Milosevic has declared war to Albanians," Mr Demaci said. "Albanian resistance will not cease."

Serbs have brushed aside foreign criticism, saying they were cracking down on a shadowy separatist armed force called the Kosovo Liberation Army.