Inquiry into 'mass graves' in Kosovo

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The Independent Online
THE STINKING rubbish dumps at the edge of Orahovac town in Kosovo may be hiding the latest victims of Serbian brutality. According to reports published yesterday in German, Austrian and Swedish newspapers, the Balkans' new killing fields conceal the bodies of 567 Albanians, including 430 children, massacred by the Serbian police.

Or, if the European Union observers hurriedly dispatched there yesterday are to be believed, perhaps no more than a few dozen Albanian fighters are interred there. "The observers have found no evidence of mass graves," said the Austrian spokesman of the mission, Walter Ebenberger.

Mr Ebenberger had not gone to Orahovac, but had spoken to colleagues who had. They found graves marked with numbers, at the rubbish tip identified by Erich Rathfelder, whose shocking dispatch appeared in yesterday's Tageszeitung, a Berlin newspaper, and Die Presse, an Austrian daily.

According to his report, based on eye-witness accounts, up to 1,000 of the town's inhabitants were killed in the Serb onslaught between 18 and 21 July. The 700-strong detachment of Serb anti-terrorist forces used the local inhabitants as a human shield in their battle against the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Local grave-diggers told the journalist they had buried 567 in two mass graves dug at the dump. Bulldozers were used to level the ground, but some corpses could still be seen lying exposed on Tuesday.

Observers and journalists at the scene were able to confirm the existence of some makeshift graves, but what lies below the wooden crosses remains a mystery. The Serbs do not deny that some "50 Albanian extremists" had been killed and buried there in the course of last month's battles. But they have shown no inclination to allow international investigators to exhume the bodies.

Albanian sources were also confused by the reports. They had reckoned with 200 dead in the fighting, and had not heard of any massacres in the district.

"If there is any truth in these horrifying accounts, we must have a firm and united international response," said Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary.

In the US, Congressional pressure is building for a display of force to stop the bloodshed in Kosovo. The Republican Senator Alfonse D'Amato and the Republican Representative Christopher Smith called yesterday for "immediate and decisive action" in a letter to President Bill Clinton. The rising violence, increasing numbers of displaced people and the return of ethnic cleansing all demand military action, they said, on behalf of the Commission on Security and Co-operation in Europe. "We urge you to seek agreement within Nato to act directly against those within Kosovo who are attacking civilian populations," they added.

Nato ambassadors will meet tomorrow to discuss progress on military options for Kosovo. The organisation was asked in May to prepare plans for intervention.

On Tuesday, the State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin said: "These plans are being both finalised and operationalised so that Nato will be in a position to act quickly if a political decision to do so is made."