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U.N. Kosovo Head Tours Mass Graves

August 4, 1999

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ The U.N. mission chief in Kosovo toured a grave site being probed by war crimes investigators Wednesday and warned that the world is mistaken if it thinks the province’s war is a thing of the past.

``People believe all over the world that now the war in Kosovo is over,″ Bernard Kouchner said. ``That is not true, because of the families suffering. ... It’s a long story. It’s always a long story.″

Underscoring the ethnic tension that still plagues the Serbian province were reports of more slayings and the arrests of eight ethnic Albanians by NATO peacekeeping troops for allegedly evicting Serbs by force. U.S. troops said the deaths included an ethnic Albanian and a Serb killed early Wednesday in a shootout that erupted as a convoy of Serbs headed out of Kosovo.

``Unbelievable,″ Kouchner said as he visited the grave site on a hill overlooking Kosovska Mitrovica, a northern Kosovo mining town still divided between Serbs and ethnic Albanians.

He said it was the first time he had been confronted with ``the reality of mass murder,″ adding that the scene helped him understand the fury of hundreds of thousands of returning ethnic Albanian refugees.

Investigators have identified 72 graves in and around an existing cemetery at the site and have retrieved 40 to 50 bodies for autopsies in the past 10 days, said Paul Risley, a spokesman for the international war crimes tribunal.

Some of the corpses were in body bags, and the bodies appeared to have been transported to the site from April to June, when Serb forces were conducting a campaign of killings and expulsions against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority.

``Some of them appear to have been tortured,″ Risley said. Most had been shot at close range.

NATO peacekeepers have found scores of similar sites since entering Kosovo in mid-June after the withdrawal of Serb forces.

Kouchner insisted that despite the atrocities, revenge attacks against Serbs in the province could not be tolerated. ``A murder is a murder. One man is one man,″ he said, adding that protecting Serbs is ``absolutely our duty.″

That duty was proving difficult again Wednesday as the latest convoy of Serbs to give up and leave Kosovo headed through the village of Dobrocane, 30 miles southeast of Pristina.

U.S. Army Spec. Jeremy Ausburn said that when some ethnic Albanians in the village threw rocks at the convoy, the column stopped and someone in it responded with gunfire, killing one Albanian.

Ethnic Albanians returned fire, hitting one Serb man before the convoy moved on to a Russian checkpoint. The man was taken to a Russian medical facility, where he died.

Another Serb man was killed Wednesday in Vitina, about 35 miles southeast of Pristina, according to the private Beta news agency. The report, quoting Serb Orthodox Church sources, said three armed Albanians killed the 39-year-old man in his bed.

Also Wednesday, Maj. Roland Lavoie, a spokesman for the peacekeeping force, said the bodies of a Serb man and woman in their 50s killed in separate incidents had been discovered in Pristina the previous day. The man had been kidnapped before being shot to death, according to his wife. No details on the second death were released.

Eight ethnic Albanians were arrested Tuesday for using threats to evict 17 Serbs from their homes in Bogosevac in western Kosovo, Lavoie said.

The state news agency Tanjug said 12 Serbs had been killed over a 24-hour period from Monday to Tuesday _ five in Pristina and seven elsewhere in Kosovo.

More than 164,000 Serbs have fled the province since mid-June, leaving only around 40,000, according to a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

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