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Friday, 12 November, 1999, 15:36 GMT
Q & A: Counting Kosovo's dead

How many were killed in this year's bitter conflict in Kosovo? The recent figures announced by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Carla del Ponte, are the most accurate given so far, though only partial.

She said United Nations investigators had so far exhumed over 2,100 bodies, though the actual number of ethnic Albanian victims of the conflict may be much higher.

The figures follow controversy in the western media, with some reports claiming the number of victims was much less than Nato sources claimed during the war.

The BBC's South-east Europe analyst, Gabriel Partos, tries to separate fact from fiction over the killings in Kosovo:

How many bodies have been found?
Kosovo: Special Report
In her 10 November report to the UN Security Council, chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte said 2,108 bodies had been found so far. That figure relates to about one third of the 529 grave sites notified to the ICTY. The remaining two-thirds, along with possible fresh sites, will be investigated in the spring when conditions on the ground make resumption of the work possible.

How much higher is the final death toll likely to be?
It is not possible to make any accurate estimates on the basis of what has been found so far because some of the mass graves yet to be opened up may contain many more - or many fewer - bodies than those exhumed so far. Besides, the ICTY says the investigators have found evidence of tampering with the graves, including the burning or apparent removal of the victims' remains.

What are the estimates?
More than 11,000 deaths have been reported to the ICTY - but only a fifth of these have been confirmed. Other reports are of around 5,000 Kosovar Albanians still missing, now presumed dead. So it may be conjectured that the total numbers - or whatever figure can be established - may be somewhere between 5,000 and 12,000.

What was Nato saying during the conflict?
Nato officials during the conflict were doing their best to drum up public support for the campaign of air strikes against Yugoslavia which was meant to halt and reverse the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians. They made tough attacks on Belgrade's policies in the region - often using Kosovar Albanian reports which could not be independently verified. But Nato never claimed to have accurate figures for the number of victims.

What about the hundreds of thousands of victims mentioned at Nato briefings?
These figures related to those believed to be missing - some of whom were assumed to be dead. Nato estimates of those missing ranged from 100,000 to more than 400,000 Kosovar Albanians. Many of them were indeed "missing", hiding in forests. But it appears it was closer to a few thousand who were actually killed.

Why does the number of victims matter?
For Nato member states it is important to justify the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia on humanitarian grounds - especially since Nato's own air raids killed civilians, both Kosovar Albanians and Serbs, mostly as a result of pilot error or rockets and bombs going astray. According to Belgrade, hundreds were killed in the Nato strikes. By contrast, opponents of Nato's action want to downplay the level of Serbian atrocities in an attempt to show that the campaign was unnecessary.

Meanwhile, have the killings stopped?
The Nato-led K-FOR peacekeepers have failed to stem the violence since they moved into Kosovo in June. Nato says that of the known victims among the 379 murders over the past five months, ethnic Albanians and Serbs account in almost equal numbers for 270 victims. But given the huge discrepancy between the size of the two communities - Albanians make up over 95 per cent of the population - Serbs now represent a disproportionately high share of the victims. Though on a much smaller scale, the revenge attacks on Kosovar Serbs have taken on the form of ethnic cleansing in reverse

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See also:
10 Nov 99 |  Europe
UN gives figure for Kosovo dead
10 Sep 99 |  Europe
Call to protect Kosovo minorities
11 Nov 99 |  Europe
Belgrade 'sceptical' on Kosovo death toll

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