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Wednesday, February 10, 1999 Published at 19:11 GMT

World: Europe

Kosovo massacre bodies returned

Serbs fear an emotive funeral for ethnic Albanians

The bodies of 40 ethnic Albanians killed in a massacre in Kosovo last month have arrived back in the village of Racak to await burial.

The BBC's Orla Guerin in Kosovo: "The grief was overwhelming"
The coffins were taken back to the village on four trucks escorted by monitors from the OSCE (Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe).

Meanwhile, Serbs and ethnic Albanians were locked in stalemate at the first peace talks held in Rambouillet, outside Paris.

The BBC's Jacky Rowland says neither side has come well out of the dispute
Serb officials released the bodies after international monitors resolved a long running dispute between the authorities and the families of the dead.

The bodies had undergone extensive autopsies by Serbian and Finnish experts following allegations by international monitors that the ethnic Albanian victims were massacred by Serbian police on 15 January.

Funeral dispute

The families wanted the dead brought back and buried together while, until Tuesday evening, the Serbian investigating judge, Danica Marinkovic, insisted that the bodies be released and buried in batches over three days.

The BBC Correspondent in Pristina, Jacky Rowland, says that neither side has come out of the dispute well.

The dispute prompted the OSCE, which organises teams of international cease-fire monitors, to accuse both sides of using the bodies for their own political ends.

Bad press

While Albanian activists of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) are known to want a mass funeral to draw attention to their independence struggle, the authorities were believed to be anxious to avoid more negative publicity during Kosovo peace talks in France.

The report of the autopsies, carried out to determine whether the victims were massacred at close range as the head of the monitors, William Walker, asserted publicly, has not been released.

It is now up to the families to decide when and where the funerals will take place, although ethnic Albanian spokesmen say they could take place as soon as Thursday or Friday.

But Serbian security forces have been occupying positions on a hill overlooking Racak, where the families want to bury their dead.

Monitors are still talking to both sides to try to secure a compromise that will allow the funerals to take place peacefully.

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