Articles on the Kosovo Conflict



More than 2,100 bodies exhumed from Kosovo graves
November 10, 1999

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- War crimes investigators have exhumed the bodies of 2,108 ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, a fraction of the thousands estimated killed during a brutal crackdown on the province by Yugoslav and Serb security forces, a U.N. prosecutor said Wednesday.

Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, briefed the Security Council in New York with the tribunal's preliminary findings.

"This figure does not necessarily reflect the total number of actual victims, because we have discovered evidence of tampering with graves," Del Ponte said. "There were also a significant number of sites where the precise number of bodies cannot be counted. In these places steps were taken to hide the evidence. Many bodies have been burned."

NATO halted the 18-month crackdown -- which forced hundreds of thousands of Albanians to flee the province -- with a 78-day bombing campaign that ended with the beginning of the Serb troop withdrawal on June 10. NATO peacekeeping troops, with war crimes investigators alongside, entered Kosovo the following day.

The United Nations now maintains civilian control over the province.

In a speech to the U.N. Security Council, Del Ponte said she had received reports of 529 grave sites and more than 11,000 bodies. Forensic experts had examined approximately one-third of these locations so far, she said.

The tribunal has issued one public indictment -- against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four others -- for crimes committed in Kosovo.

Serbs complain about Albanian atrocities

Serbs have complained bitterly about atrocities committed against them by refugee Albanians returning to their homes. All but a few thousand of Kosovo's Serbs are believed to have fled into Yugoslav-controlled territory.

Since NATO's arrival, said Yugoslavia's U.N. envoy in a letter to the Security Council, the situation in Kosovo has been "characterized by mass terror against Serbs and other non-Albanians."

Yugoslavia's U.N. envoy Vladislav Jovanovic said 447 Serbs and other minorities had been murdered in Kosovo, and hundreds more abducted since June.

NATO officials said 135 Serbs were among the victims of 379 murders in that time period, but acknowledged that the number was disproportionately high based on Kosovo's dwindling population of Serbs.

History of conflict

Serbs consider Kosovo the ancestral home of their civilization. The region was ruled by Muslims for 500 years following a 1389 Ottoman Turk victory over the Serbs.

After Serbia regained independence in the 19th century, it eventually retook Kosovo and its majority Muslim population after war with the Ottomans.

Sectarian tensions simmered, but the 1945 advent of communist Yugoslavia kept the ethnic fervor under control.

Kosovo got a degree of autonomy in 1974, but with Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito's death in 1980, the nationalist drive again surfaced.

The emergence of Milosevic as Yugoslav leader a decade after Tito's death fanned nationalist flames further, pushing ethnic conflict in the Balkans to a new level.

The six-republic Yugoslav federation eventually lost Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Slovenia to ethnic conflicts, leaving only Serbia and Montenegro.

Milosevic stripped Kosovo of its autonomy, enraging Kosovar Albanians who had long wanted independence.


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