Up to 10,000 buried in Kosovo's mass graves, British say
'Torture chamber' discovered in Pristina police station
June 17, 1999
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- As many as 10,000 people may be buried in mass graves in Kosovo, and advancing peacekeepers are finding new evidence of atrocities daily, British officials said Thursday.
British troops participating in the KFOR peacekeeping mission have discovered what Foreign Office Minister Geoff Hoon called a "torture chamber" in the cellar of Serbia's special police headquarters in Pristina, Kosovo's provincial capital.
And while Yugoslav troops are leaving Kosovo as scheduled by last week's cease-fire, they are burning houses and occasionally shooting people as they go, Adm. Ian Garnett, Britain's chief of joint operations, said.
"According to the reports we have gathered, mostly from the refugees, it appears that around 10,000 people have been killed in more than 100 massacres. The final toll may be much worse," Hoon told reporters in London.
Throughout the 11-week NATO air war against Yugoslavia, the alliance repeatedly accused Serb-led Yugoslav forces of carrying out a campaign against ethnic Albanian civilians in the strife-torn Serbian province. In the last days of the war, a U.N. tribunal charged Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four top officials with war crimes in connection with the violence in Kosovo.
Though Hoon said it was hard to believe that anyone could kill children, systematically rape women and destroy bodies to conceal the evidence, "This has happened in Kosovo. Fresh evidence is being discovered all the time."
NATO intelligence officials back up that assessment, with at least 95 suspected mass grave sites located.
"It's clear that there is a lot of stuff out there," said a U.S. State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
And at Pristina's police headquarters, British paratroopers discovered a basement equipped with knives, rubber and wooden batons, brass knuckles, drugs and pornography. The soldiers found the remains of burned documents as well, Hoon said.
Most chilling, Hoon said, was that the cellar appeared to be nothing special: "In other words, the barbaric acts carried out in this building were probably almost a matter of routine."
Under the agreement that ended the war, the Yugoslav army and special police have until Sunday to leave Kosovo, and are moving on schedule, Garnett said.
"While the timetable of the withdrawal is being met, the nature of the withdrawal is being marked by behavior that prompted the alliance to act in the first place," he said.
Yugoslav troops have burned houses, shot some people and left possible booby-traps in their wake, he said.
"The picture overall is that the Serbs are trying to make it as difficult as possible for Kosovars to return safely to their homes," Garnett said.
Garnett said the Kosovo Liberation Army -- the ethnic Albanian separatists who have fought for independence -- was disarming, and KFOR has found no evidence so far that they have exacted any retribution against Serbs. In addition, a U.S. Marine unit disarmed about 116 KLA fighters in southern Kosovo on Wednesday.
Serb civilians, meanwhile, are fleeing Kosovo behind the army despite KFOR's promise to protect them against any reprisals by returning Albanians. Hoon repeated that pledge Thursday.
"We want decent, ordinary, peace-loving Serb families to stay, so Kosovo can be a model to the rest of Serbia of a modern, multicultural state," he said.
But Kosovo's Serb population wasn't buying it. In the southern city of Prizren on Wednesday, four busloads of Kosovar Serbs left home with the bishop of their Orthodox church, who was among the last of the city's Serbs to flee.
The scene was similar in the provincial capital of Pristina, where buses ran a gantlet of angry ethnic Albanians on the way out of town Wednesday. Relief workers estimated at least 50,000 Serbs had fled Kosovo by Thursday -- about a quarter of Kosovo's Serb population.
The buses passed hundreds of returning Albanians as they left Pristina.
"I think it's exactly what we've been afraid of: the return of one population and the displacement of another," said Paula Ghedini, an official with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Meanwhile, talks between U.S. and Russian officials in Helsinki, Finland, appeared unlikely to produce an agreement about the Russian role in the Kosovo peacekeeping mission, senior U.S. diplomats said Thursday.
The talks have foundered on a Russian demand for control of a separate zone in Kosovo -- a demand NATO countries, which lead the KFOR mission, have refused.
"We have made clear there would not be a separate Russian sector, and we are working on ways of integrating the Russians into the whole process," U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Thursday as she arrived to join the talks.
Russia has also balked at placing its troops under a NATO commander, British Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson.
But in Paris, U.S. President Bill Clinton was still predicting a "successful conclusion" to the talks Thursday.
"The atmosphere is pretty positive and pretty hopeful," Clinton said on the lawn of Elysee Palace after a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac.
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev have held marathon talks in Helsinki to discuss Russia's role.
Sergeyev struck an optimistic tone, predicting differences about Russian participation would be resolved by the weekend.
"We're moving in the right direction," Sergeyev said. "Along every road we made a different progress."
Among the topics in Helsinki was the contingent of about 200 Russian troops that moved unexpectedly into Kosovo early Saturday, taking control of Pristina's airport.
The Russians have kept NATO from setting up a planned base at the airfield, but British troops around the airport have kept them supplied with food and water, Garnett said.
According to the Russians, the Helsinki talks have settled the question of Russia's role at the airport. But U.S. officials said the issues have to be settled as a whole, not one by one.
The tide turns: Kosovo Albanians return home as Serbs flee
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