Serbs silent over mass-graves find

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The Independent Online

In the peaceful fields just outside Belgrade, mass graves are being dug up. Under a veil of secrecy, the new Yugoslav authorities are exhuming the bodies of Albanians murdered by Serb forces in Kosovo and buried here by order of Slobodan Milosevic, so that they could not be used as evidence of war crimes against him.

The new government has revealed that mass graves have been found at up to three sites near the capital. But Serbian journalists looking for the sites have been warned by the authorities not to investigate further.

One of the sites is believed to lie inside the 13 May military compound in Batojnica. But armed guards refuse journalists access to the compound. It is believed that one of the refrigerator trucks bearing the corpses arrived here as Nato bombs fell around the capital in 1999.

The bodies of at least 1,500 Albanians known to have been murdered by Serb security forces disappeared from Kosovo during the air strikes in 1999.

They are vital evidence that the international war-crimes tribunal in The Hague needs if it is to prove its charge that ex-President Milosevic is guilty of crimes against humanity. Investigators from the tribunal are believed to have arrived in Belgrade last week. But questions are being asked about why the new authorities are preserving the secrecy over Milosevic's attempts to hide some of his worst crimes.

The truth began to emerge only after a diver revealed for the first time the one major slip-up in the operation to hide the corpses.

In early April 1999, a refrigerator truck was seen in the river Danube near the town of Kladovo. Earlier this year, Zivedin Djordjevic told a little-known Serbian magazine that he was one of a team of divers that pulled the truck out of the river. He said it was full of the corpses of murdered Albanians, including women and children.

Since then, the Serbian police have said that their investigations have uncovered a secret meeting in March 1999, at which the then president ordered that evidence that could be used by The Hague tribunal must be covered up.

Thousands of Kosovar Albanians were accused of lying by the Western media when they told of murdered relatives whose bodies were never found. Now it seems likely that the bodies dug up around Belgrade can be identified, bringing some comfort to the bereaved at last ­ if the new Yugoslav authorities divulge the information.