Liberation of Kosovo: Kosovars' stolen identities found on rubbish dump

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BRITISH SOLDIERS have discovered mounds of identity documents, believed to have been stolen by Serb forces from ethnic Albanians as they fled the conflict in Kosovo.

The scenes were reminiscent of the aftermath of the Second World War when Allied troops found personal belongings of the Nazis' victims.

Lieutenant Andrew Kevil of the British Intelligence Corps said that "thousands" of personal identity papers were discovered in only two hours of searching yesterday. All of the documents had been ripped in two.

What remained of the stolen papers, evidence of what is believed to have been a Serb attempt to turn the Albanian Kosovars into "non citizens" with no claim on their homes and villages, was being loaded into refuse sacks. They will be turned over to the UN High Commission for Refugees to be examined.

British forensic scientists arrived yesterday in Pristina to set up headquarters for a team that will gather evidence of war crimes for UN prosecutors in The Hague.

Two officers also arrived from the Metropolitan Police special operations department. A further 15 UK experts are due in Kosovo later this week. Britain is one of several Nato countries sending forensic scientists to Kosovo. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has sent 25 officers. They are the same teams who went to Kenya and Tanzania after the US embassy bombings last August, said the FBI director, Louis Freeh.

A second, larger FBI deployment will go into Kosovo in the next two weeks for a detailed investigation. As much evidence as possible will be gathered before winter snow covers crucial details.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, announced the dispatch of the British experts on Saturday. He said they would "document and prepare evidence of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo". He added: "Their forensic skills will be used to prepare evidence for the War Crimes Tribunal to bring the perpetrators of these vile crimes to justice."

David Gowan, the Foreign Office's war crimes co-ordinator, said the scale of offences by suspected war criminals in Kosovo is "enormous". Mr Gowan has access to much of the latest intelligence.

"The number of people who have been murdered is greater than we think by far. It is going to be chilling," he said. Nato troops will be expected to hand over any evidence of war crimes to the tribunal.

The Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, said some "truly horrible" things have taken place in Kosovo, and vowed that those responsible would be brought to justice. "There is no way that [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic can run on a permanent basis. He is indicted [as a war criminal], and I believe that one day he will face justice, and so he should," he said.

The chief UN war crimes prosecutor, Louise Arbour, is expected to delay taking up a new post until 15 September to ensure "continuity in the work of the war crimes tribunal".