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
"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
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
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
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.