Human remains found in a southern Serbian mine

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The European Union’s mission to ensure the rule of law in Kosovo said Friday that human remains that appear to be a mass grave of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo have been found in a disused coal mine in southern Serbia.

EULEX said it used aerial images to locate the site following some unsuccessful excavations in the Kizevak mine. EULEX’s exhumation coordinator, Krassimir Nikolov said the process of identifying the remains will be complicated and time-consuming and it also needs a court order.

“The work in Kizevak is far from over,” he said.

Kosovo’s 1998-99 war, which ended with a 78-day NATO air campaign, left more than 10,000 people dead. Over 1,640 people are still unaccounted-for in Kosovo. EULEX has conducted 662 field operations to locate missing people, resulting in the identification of 457 individuals. Around 300 bodies remain in the morgue.

“The discovery of the human remains in Kizevak is a very positive development and a reward for our continuous efforts,” said EULEX deputy head Tarja Formisto.

Several mass graves with the bodies of Kosovo Albanians killed by Serb troops during the 1998-99 war have been discovered in various parts of Serbia. Moving victims from Kosovo to Serbia was part of a coverup operation by Serbian authorities at the time to try to hide evidence of war crimes.

Aerial images of the site were made available by the International Committee of the Red Cross in late 2019. After identifying the location, experts from EULEX, the Kosovo Institute of Forensic Medicine and the Serbian Government Commission on Missing Persons carried out field work in Kizevak.

Javier Santana, EULEX’s forensic archaeologist, said the work was difficult because “these are large quarry sites and the landscape kept changing over time due to the fact that the quarry was still in use for a number of years” and the remains were at different levels of the mine.

Kosovar Foreign Minister Melisa Haradinaj-Stublla has asked Belgrade to allow her visit the site on Saturday “to closely see the excavation” and raise awareness of how Serbs hid mass graves around their own country.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia has not recognized that. EU-mediated talks aimed at normalizing relations have stalled since November 2018 and relations remain tense.

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