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Human Rights Group Suspects Four Mass Graves Near Knin

August 20, 1995

KNIN, Croatia (AP) _ Human rights investigators said Sunday there may be at least four mass graves near Knin, the former rebel Serb stronghold overrun by the Croat army this month.

The three-member team from the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights toured the area around Knin for four days to check reports of Croatian atrocities during the offensive to retake Serb-held land.

The team, which returned to Knin on Sunday, said it received ``numerous contradictory reports concerning civilian casualties, missing civilians and summary executions.″

U.N. spokesmen said last week that U.N. personnel had discovered dead bodies of civilians, some of them mutilated, and evidence of Croat soldiers looting and burning abandoned Serb homes in southern Croatia.

``We are led to question the cause of contradictory reports of casualties which range from 22 civilian casualties to several hundreds,″ William Hayden, an American member of the team, told reporters in Zagreb.

Hayden said that a suspected mass grave in the Knin cemetery, mentioned by U.N. spokesmen on Friday, was ``directly related to the reports of missing civilians, civilian casualties and executions.″

The human rights group and an Associated Press reporter were allowed to visit one suspected mass grave Saturday _ a flat-topped mound about 110 feet by 16 feet, about three feet high. It had 86 crosses, a few with names written on them.

However, on Sunday Croatian television showed the site with an individual mound for each cross.

Gen. Ivan Cermak, Croatian army commander for the area of Knin, said the graves were those of 84 Bosnian Serb soldiers who were killed in fighting and two Serb civilians who died in the Knin hospital after the town was retaken.

Bodies with no identification documents had their fingerprints taken and were listed in a document shown to the AP reporter.

Cermak, who gave permission to visit the grave site, dismissed U.N. accusations as ``total disinformation″ and said he had personally ordered that bodies be buried properly.

However, he admitted that it was possible that up to 300 bodies of soldiers or civilians might still be discovered in the hills around Knin.

Hayden quoted civilians who moved to the U.N. camp in Knin after the military operation as saying that some of their friends and relatives were either shot or taken by the Croatian army in their presence.

``Many of these people have not shown up, nor have they been found on any casualty lists or lists of missing persons, or lists of persons detained by Croatian authorities,″ Hayden said.

Dusan Colak, a Serb spokesman who took refuge at the U.N. base in Knin, said people felt unsafe and were waiting for permission to leave for Serbia.

Dardan Gashi, a Vienna-based member of the team, said the team also found that Serb homes were burned systematically. The team said up to 85 percent of the abandoned houses in the area it investigated were damaged from fire.

Cermak said that his forces had arrested three Croatian soldiers and two civilians suspected of having burned Serb homes.

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