Officials in Serbia say they have uncovered a mass grave containing the bodies of hundreds of ethic Albanians who were killed during the war of the 1990s in nearby Kosovo. It is one of the largest mass graves discovered in Serbia since 2001.
Serbia's war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic confirmed some 250 bodies of ethnic Albanians are believed to be inside a newly discovered mass grave in a hilly, rural area near the town of Raska, located about 180 kilometers south of the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
He said the human remains were discovered with the help of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX).
Investigators say the victims were killed by Serbian forces fighting ethnic Albanians seeking independence for Kosovo in 1998 and 1999.
Eventually the North Atlantic Treaty Organization intervened, launching an air war in 1999 that forced Serbian troops to leave Kosovo.
In 2008, Kosovo's parliament declared the impoverished territory with a mainly ethnic-Albanian population independent from Serbia. The move was recognized by the United States and several European countries, but not by Serbia.
Prosecutor Vukcevic made clear that regardless of that debate, his country would continue to uncover Balkan war crimes.
He says the Serbian discovery of a mass grave with ethnic-Albanian victims shows in his words "the democratic capacity of Serbia and its determination to investigate any crime to the end, no matter who is the perpetrator and who is the victim." He adds "this is the best way to reach reconciliation in this region."
Officials have described it as the second-largest mass grave found in Serbia since 2001, when more than 800 Kosovo Albanians were discovered in pits on a police training ground outside Belgrade and in eastern Serbia.
Serbian forces have been accused of moving remains in a bid to cover up mass killings and other atrocities. Hundreds of bodies of slain ethnic Albanians have been returned to Kosovo in the past several years.
Serbia is under international pressure to speed up investigations into war crimes and prosecute suspects, as it seeks membership in the European Union.