Police force Kosovo villagers to bury massacre victims

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The Independent Online
ALBANIAN villagers in Kosovo were last night forced to bury nearly 50 relatives killed by the Serbs in a rude rebuff of their demands - backed by the United States - for full identification and autopsy procedures, writes Andrew Gumbel.

According to an eye-witness, the ceremony in Prekaz took place under the gaze of police and firemen who stood ready to carry out the burials themselves if the villagers refused.

The funeral occurred minutes after the US special envoy, Robert Gelbard, left Kosovo. He had demanded an examination of the bodies by foreign forensic experts led by the Red Cross as well as full access by journalists, diplomats and international organisations to Drenica, the rural area west of the capital, Pristina, where the fighting has taken place.

At least 20 of the bodies were buried without being identified. Some were burned beyond recognition and others could not be claimed by next of kin because entire families, including women, children and old people, had been wiped out. For fear of being arrested or shot by armed police, surviving members of the Jashari family, the focus of the Serb onslaught in Prekaz, did not visit the bodies, which were kept in a shed in a neighbouring village.

All day, Albanian doctors and priests and international aid groups tried to reach the area, only to be turned back at police checkpoints. Only a Red Cross truck loaded with coffins was allowed through.

The funeral was a direct provocation aimed at Mr Gelbard, who also called for a full investigation into more than 80 killings in Drenica over the past 10 days and raised the possibility of a war crimes trial.

He met local officials in Pristina yesterday following talks in Belgrade with the man the West holds responsible for the killing, Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. Mr Gelbard described the violence by Serbian forces as "brutal, disproportionate and overwhelming".

Some television cameras and press photographers reached Srbica using backwoods tracks, and were allowed to take pictures of the bodies, some of which had been attacked by wild dogs.