250 ethnic Albanians found in mass grave

A mass grave believed to contain the bodies of at least 250 ethnic Albanians killed in the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo has been uncovered in Serbia.

The country's chief war crimes prosecutor said yesterday that the gruesome task of exhuming the bodies would begin soon. According to Vladimir Vukcevic, the mass grave lies at Rudnica, near the Serbian town of Raska, 160 miles south of Belgrade and only five miles from the Serb border with Kosovo. The number of victims, buried in the yard of a former quarry and road construction company, was estimated from witnesses' statements and analysis of aerial photographs. "This is proof that Serbia does not turn away from its dark past and is ready to bring perpetrators to justice," Mr Vukcevic said. "This is our duty towards the victims and their families."

At the time of the conflict, the regime of the former president, Slobodan Milosevic, said it was engaged in the fight "against terrorism" by separatist ethnic Albanians, while security forces under his control carried out brutal executions and transported the remains of hundreds of civilians into Serbia. The repression of Kosovo Albanians ceased after Nato air raids on Serbia in 1999, while discoveries that could prove Milosevic's violence became possible only after the fall of his regime in 2000.

Serbia's deputy war crimes prosecutor, Bruno Vekaric, said the bodies in Rudnica were brought from three sites inside Kosovo: the southern town of Prizren, the capital Pristina and the small town of Janjevo.

The grave is the sixth to be found in Serbia since 2001, and if the estimate is correct it is the second largest. The largest, in the Belgrade suburb of Batajnica, held more than 700 bodies.

The top Serbian police official in charge of Kosovo at the time of the conflict, Vlastimir Djordjevic, is believed to have ordered the cover-up operations under orders from Milosevic. Mr Djordjevic is on trial before the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague, charged with murder, deportation and forcible transfer of ethnic Albanians.