Doubt cast on reports of mass graves


EU observers investigating press reports of mass graves in Kosovo said yesterday they had found no evidence of them, the Austrian news agency, APA, said.

The Austrian EU presidency said it would be "relieved" if the APA report was true, although it had not yet been officially informed of the observers' findings near Orahovac in south-west Kosovo.

"For the time being I can neither confirm nor deny it," Mr Gerhard Jandl of the Austrian Foreign Ministry said after the Foreign Minister, Mr Wolfgang Schuessel, expressed "extreme alarm" at the reports.

APA, citing a spokesman for the observers, said there was no "mass grave" near Orahovac, as reported by the Austrian newspaper Die Presse, although they said 10 named graves had been found at the site indicated.

Mr Walter Ebenberger told the agency the observers were "absolutely certain" that they had seen the spot described by the press report, but had found only 10 graves with "apparently Albanian names" on them.

Die Presse said journalists had seen "the bodies of more than 500 people, including 400 children" in one grave in Orahovac, the scene of heavy clashes between Serb police and Albanian separatists in recent days, while another contained about 1,000 bodies.

Earlier, the Austrian EU presidency expressed "extreme alarm" at the report, and asked for the observers to investigate further.

"If these reports of mass graves with several hundred bodies, including many children, prove to be true, it would present an extremely serious heightening of the crisis," it said.

Mr Jandl, meanwhile, expressed caution about the lack of evidence of mass graves at Orahovac. "If we don't find mass graves today it doesn't mean that there are no mass graves," he said.