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Thursday, February 11, 1999 Published at 22:31 GMT

World: Europe

Thousands bury Racak dead

Prayers were said over the rows of coffins

Thousands of people have attended the hillside funeral of the 40 ethnic Albanians killed by Serbian police in the Kosovo village of Racak last month.

Kosovo Section
The coffins, draped in red and black Kosovo Albanian flags and with red carnations on top, were carried up a snowy hill, and laid in two long rows of graves. Women wept loudly for lost husbands and sons.

Orla Guerin in Kosovo: "There were coffins as far as the eye could see"
The burials took place only a few hundred metres from where international peace monitors discovered the bodies in mid-January.

People travelled from miles around to pay their respects to the dead, who included a woman and a 16-year-old girl.

[ image:  ]
The BBC correspondent in Racak, Jacky Rowland, says there was a constant stream of people coming across the countryside by foot or on tractors.

Several mourners delivered speeches, as ceasefire monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) looked on.

[ image: Two long lines of graves were dug]
Two long lines of graves were dug
The mourners heard the head of the international monitoring mission, William Walker, condemn the killings as crimes against humanity.

"The devil," he said, "visited Racak and life was wiped out."

Mr Walker denounced the killings as a massacre in January. His remarks nearly got him thrown out of the country.

They were the main catalyst in getting the international community to convene urgent peace talks in France to end the conflict.

Serbian police and KLA out of sight

Dozens of monitors were in and around the village to check that Serbian security forces keep their promise to stay away from the village.

The BBC's Jacky Rowland in Racak: "It was a very solemn, dignified occasion"
But the monitors say police had set up unauthorised checkpoints on the roads leading into the village and snipers were in position on a hill facing the grave site.

However, reports say there were no Serbian police or soldiers in sight. Nor were there any uniformed members of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Dispute over bodies

The bodies were brought to the village in four trucks from the main hospital in Pristina on Wednesday and driven under escort by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to Racak.

A large crowd followed the coffins as they were carried one by one through the gates of the village mosque.

Serb officials released the bodies after international monitors resolved a long-running dispute between the authorities - who were insisting that the bodies should be released in batches - and the families, who said that as they had died together they should be buried together.

The bodies were exhaustively examined by Serbian and Finnish pathologists, trying to establish whether the victims were executed at close range, as Western monitors believe, or killed in a battle with police.

The Serbian pathologists say there were no signs of a massacre, while the Finns, who distanced themselves from the Serbian report, have yet to release their own findings.

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