Holbrooke visits Kosovo mass grave to 'bear witness'
'We need to remember what brought us here'
August 28, 1999
CIKATOVO, Kosovo (CNN) -- After visiting a suspected mass grave site in Kosovo on Saturday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke said evidence of such atrocities shows why NATO had to intervene in the troubled province.
"We want to bear witness to the reason NATO bombed and the reason the world community has sent the U.N. in, and this is the reason -- this ravine behind us where people were shot and shoveled over the side," he said.
The three-day visit to Kosovo by Holbrooke, just sworn in this week as Washington's top diplomat at the U.N., is richly symbolic. It was Holbrooke, then the U.N. special envoy on Balkans issues, who traveled to Belgrade just before NATO bombs started to fall, trying to persuade Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to compromise.
He also helped broker the Dayton peace accords, which ended the war in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Holbrooke spent 45 minutes at the mass grave area in Cikatovo, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of the provincial capital of Pristina, talking to several villagers.
War crimes investigators say more than 100 victims buried in the area were ethnic Albanians executed by Serb police, military and paramilitary forces. The majority were men who were rounded up, shot and hastily buried.
"We are not learning anything here that isn't in previous accounts," Holbrooke said. "But to be in the physical presence of the events, that is different. While we are trying to forge a peace, we need to remember what brought us here."
There are six mass grave sites in the Cikatovo area, and the remains of the bodies are being temporarily reburied until the victims can be given traditional Muslim funerals.
With only remnants of clothing to go by, officials have yet to identify many of the bodies.
Meetings with U.N., KLA, Rugova on itinerary
Holbrooke said he had come to Kosovo at the request of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright because "the U.N. is being tested in Kosovo as it has never been tested before, with responsibilities greater than ever before."
He plans to meet with Bernard Koucher, the chief U.N. administrator of Kosovo, as well as senior commanders of the NATO-led peacekeeping force. He is also scheduled to meet with the political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Hashim Thaci, and moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova.
Holbrooke's visit comes amid widespread ethnic violence, mostly against minority Serbs by majority ethnic Albanians seeking to avenge the 18-month crackdown by Yugoslav forces that sparked a mass exodus of Albanians from the province.
Blast damages unity monument
Early Saturday, a strong explosion rocked downtown Pristina, damaging a communist-era monument to ethnic harmony. Nobody was hurt in the predawn explosion, but the power of the blast rattled windows in a section of the city.
The three-pronged concrete Brotherhood and Unity monument was erected during the rule of Josip Broz Tito, founder of communist Yugoslavia and a proponent of multiethnic coexistence. Tito died in 1980, and the breakup of Yugoslavia along ethnic lines turned bloody a decade later, with the Serb-Albanian conflict in Kosovo just the latest conflict.
The explosion destroyed one of the monument's pillars. NATO troops arriving at the scene shortly after the 3:30 a.m. blast removed remaining explosives.
Late Friday, international peacekeepers found the corpse of an unidentified woman in her late 30s near Belo Polje village in central Kosovo. She apparently was beaten to death. The body of a 60-year-old Serb woman was also found Friday, in the southwestern city of Prizren. No other details were given.
Ethnic distrust is also responsible for a standoff between ethnic Albanians and peacekeepers in the southwestern town of Orahovac. Ethnic Albanians there have been blocking Russian peacekeepers from taking up quarters since early this week.
Kosovo Albanians say the Russians -- traditional Serb allies -- were involved in atrocities committed against them during the Serb crackdown.
Horrors linger, traumatize Kosovo war survivors
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