Serbia unearths mass grave from Kosovo war

KIZEVAK, Serbia (Reuters) - Human remains believed to be the bodies of over a dozen ethnic Albanians killed during the 1998-99 war in Kosovo have been found just inside Serbia, a Serbian official said on Friday.

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More than two decades after the conflict in Kosovo ended, the search for the victims remains a major obstacle to the improvement of relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

The investigators used satellite imagery to find the mass grave in a remote open-cast mine at Kizevak in Serbia’s south.

Their findings suggested that there could be up to 17 bodies, Veljko Odalovic, the head of Serbia’s Commission for Missing Persons, told reporters.

Forensics expert Suzana Matejic said further investigation would be hampered in the short term by fast-approaching winter and coronavirus restrictions.

More than 13,000 people are believed to have died during the war in Kosovo, Serbia’s former southern province. The fighting ended in 1999 after NATO air strikes against the now-defunct Yugoslavia. Most of the victims were ethnic Albanians and hundreds are still missing.

Ibrahim Makolli, Kosovo’s representative for the missing persons, said it should be a priority to find those responsible for the deaths, adding: “They should receive the punishment they deserve.”

The investigation that led to the discovery was an effort by Serbia, Kosovo, the International Committee of the Red Cross and EULEX, the EU’s justice and police mission in Kosovo.

The largest mass grave from the war found so far, containing the bodies of more than 800 Kosovo Albanians, was found in 2001 in a police compound near Belgrade.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Belgrade refuses to recognise it. Serbia has applied to be a member of the European Union and Kosovo also wants to be part of the EU, but the two must normalise ties before either can join.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Kevin Liffey