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Wednesday, March 17, 1999 Published at 13:23 GMT


World: Europe

Racak killings 'crime against humanity'

The killings prompted the latest attempts to secure a peace deal

A final report by forensic experts into the killing of 40 Kosovo Albanians in the village of Racak has failed to rule on whether they were massacred by Serb police.

But the report does conclude the victims were unarmed civilians.

Kosovo Section
Dr Helena Ranta, the forensic expert who led a team carrying out post mortems on the bodies, called the Racak deaths a "crime against humanity".

The killings provoked international outrage and prompted the latest efforts to secure a peace deal between the warring Serbs and ethnic Albanians.

The Serb authorities said the Albanians died in clashes after opening fire on police. But locals said they believed that Serb forces were to blame for the deaths.

Dr Ranta said there were no signs that the victims were anything other than unarmed civilians and that they were most likely shot where they were found.


Dr Helena Ranta: "They were unarmed civilians"
She said there was no reason to conclude that the victims were members of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army or that they were killed accidentally.

Dr Ranta told a press conference in Pristina, Kosovo's regional capital, said: "This is a crime against humanity."

But she added apportioning blame for the killings fell outside her remit.

Dr Ranta said her report should be the start of a longer, criminal investigation which would have the power to hear from witnesses.

Dr Ranta's Finnish team examined the bodies of 40 of the 45 Racak victims to determine how they died.


Orla Guerin reports: "Hundreds were needed to carry the coffins"
Their report coincides with the third day of peace talks on Kosovo, as international mediators in Paris attempt to secure a peace settlement between the rival factions.

The ethnic Albanians have said that they are ready to sign the three-year Kosovo peace plan, but the Serbs are continuing to reject both the deal and the presence on the ground of Nato peacekeeping troops.

Jacky Rowland, a BBC correspondent in Pristina, said Dr Ranta's team were keen not to say anything inflammatory which might disrupt the peace talks.

Yugoslav denial


[ image: Albanians said Serb forces were responsible for the deaths]
Albanians said Serb forces were responsible for the deaths
Controversy has surrounded the investigation into the Albanians' deaths on 15 January.

A pathologist, who carrried out an investigation for the Yugoslav authorities, denied that those who died were victims of a massacre. Dr Sasa Dobricanin said: "Not a single body bears any sign of execution."


Jacky Rowland in Pristina: "Experts wanted to avoid judgements"
The Racak killings also strained relations between the Yugoslav Government and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in charge of the Kosovo monitoring mission.

The head of the OSCE's mission in Kosovo, William Walker, said the deaths were a "massacre" by Serb police. He was ordered to leave Yugoslavia after pinning the blame on the security forces, but defied the expulsion order.

The 45 dead are among some 2,000 people who have lost their lives during a year of fighting in Kosovo.



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