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17 mass graves alleged in Serbia

BELGRADE -- Serbian territory has 17 mass graves containing bodies of ethnic Albanians slain during Kosovo's 1998-99 war, a former interior minister said yesterday, accusing current authorities of a coverup.

Dusan Mihajlovic, who served as police chief in the government that ousted former president Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, said Serbia's conservative authorities are reluctant to prosecute those responsible for the killings.

Mihajlovic, who was in charge until early this year, said in a statement that "police have done their part of the job. They have documentation about the crimes that were committed in Kosovo."

"You should ask the current authorities why nothing is being done about that," Mihajlovic's statement said.

In response, the government said Mihajlovic left "no trace, written or oral," about the alleged mass graves when he handed over his responsibilities as interior minister and head of the police to his successor.

The government statement, issued by Interior Ministry officials, also said police are "taking steps to clarify all crimes committed in Kosovo and locate the graves."

"If Mihajlovic has any further knowledge or documents [about the graves], he should make them available to the Interior Ministry as soon as possible," the statement added.

Milosevic is on trial before the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, for genocide and crimes against humanity stemming from the 1990s wars in Kosovo, Croatia, and Bosnia. Months before Milosevic was ousted in 2000, the republic's new pro-Western leadership unearthed human remains from at least three sites in Serbia. It accused the regime of ordering the transfer of the bodies to hide traces of atrocities committed in Kosovo in 1999.

Police said they were investigating how the bodies, including those of women and children, were taken to central Serbia. About 800 bodies have been exhumed here, including 300 identified through DNA analysis and returned to Kosovo. Security sources said as many as 1,000 Kosovo Albanians were buried in the mass graves in Serbia.

"I couldn't sleep well knowing that someone had dug out the graves in Kosovo and transferred them here, under our own windows," Mihajlovic said in his statement. "Until we face the truth about the crimes committed in our name, we will be collective hostages and accomplices. We will have a guilty conscience, and we will live in the past without perspective for a better future."

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