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Thursday, November 18, 1999 Published at 20:32 GMT

World: Europe

Winter halts search for Kosovo victims

British investigators say the true number of bodies could yet rise

By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

British investigators searching for evidence of war crimes by Yugoslav forces in Kosovo have suspended their work for the winter after uncovering more than 500 bodies.

Kosovo: Special Report
Speaking in London, the head of the team, Detective Chief Superintendent John Bunn, said all the bodies were of ethnic-Albanian civilians and virtually all of them had been shot at close range.

The soil of Kosovo is slowly giving up evidence of the large-scale execution of ethnic-Albanian civilians said to have been conducted by Yugoslav police and military units.

The British forensic team was the first into Kosovo, arriving five days after the first Nato troops went in.

[ image: Winter is also hampering rebuilding efforts]
Winter is also hampering rebuilding efforts
Ultimately, teams from some 14 countries have been at work helping to piece together evidence for possible war crimes trials in the Hague.

Together these teams have investigated about one-third of the identified sites that are thought to contain mass graves.

With the ground frozen during the winter months, the British team has given up work until the spring thaw sets in.

But it has been able to give an account of its first four-and-a-half months of painstaking work.

'10,000 civilians killed'

Some 508 bodies have been recovered, all of them civilians, and virtually all shot at close range.

British officials say the true number of bodies in the grave sites investigated could well be higher - these are conservative figures - but the gruesome state of the human remains makes investigation difficult.

All the evidence, say the investigators, points to these people having been deliberately shot.

Some commentators have suggested that the number of bodies found is not consistent with the scale of the war crimes charges levelled against Yugoslav forces during Nato's air campaign to eject them from Kosovo.

But British officials are sticking to their assessment that at least 10,000 civilians were killed between June 1998 and June 1999.

They stress, however, that many of the bodies may simply never be found.

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