The remains of what could be at least 15 Albanian Kosovars killed by Serbian forces during the 1990s war have been discovered in a pit in southern Serbia, officials from both sides said.
The conflict between the Kosovar rebellion and the Serbian forces (1998-99) claimed some 13,000 lives, mostly ethnic Albanians, but also saw cases of torture with hundreds of civilians displaced.
The regime of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic tried to cover up war crimes in mass graves, and the bodies of several hundred Albanians were discovered after the fall of his rule.
The latest were found Tuesday in an open mine pit in the village of Kizevak, 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Rudnica quarry, where a mass grave was also unearthed in 2010.
“According to the information available, it could potentially be between 15 and 17 bodies,”, Serbian Commission for Missing Persons chairman Veljko Odalovic told state television on Wednesday.
“It is assumed that these are the bodies of Kosovo Albanians, but we cannot be certain until we have confirmation of the identities”, Odalovic added.
The teams have so far discovered “the first traces, namely clothes and bones,” he continued, adding that the court had ordered exhumation work to begin on Thursday.
In Pristina, the director of the Institute of Forensic Medicine Arsim Gerxhaliu told the press Thursday he was ready to go to the site to participate in the work.
“There will be a lot of work. We have to work with hand tools and not with heavy machinery”, he said.
According to the Humanitarian Law Centre, a regional non-governmental organisation specialising in war crimes, the remains of 941 Albanians killed in 1999 in Kosovo were exhumed from mass graves found in four locations in Serbia, including a former police training centre in Belgrade’s suburbs.
Some 1,600 people, mostly Albanians, are still missing in Kosovo.