Next week the United Nations begins consideration of a U.N. negotiator's proposal to give supervised independence to Kosovo, the predominatly ethnic-Albanian province that is now part of Serbia. Though the province's independence is not assured, many Serbs have begun to disinter the bodies of relatives in Kosovo and transfer them to burial grounds elsewhere in Serbia. Sabina Castelfranco has this VOA report from Rome.
The last time the dead left Kosovo in any great number was 1999. Back then the bodies were those of ethnic-Albanians killed in attacks by Serb forces. The killing only stopped when NATO launched an aerial bombing campaign that halted the Serb offensive. Since then, Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations.
Now, as Kosovo Albanians may be drawing closer to independence from Serbia, many Serbs who once lived in Kosovo are going back to dig up relatives buried there.
When fighting ended in 1999 and Serb forces withdrew from the province, ethnic-Albanians launched a wave of revenge attacks on those Serbs who remained, prompting thousands of them to flee. Among those who fled was 77-year-old Dragica Besovic.
But she recently returned to the western Kosovo town of Pec to unearth the remains of her husband.
Some Serb graves have already been desecrated and Besovic is concerned that if the province gains independence, Kosovo Albanians will dig up her relatives' remains and scatter the bones.
Besovic says that since there nothing left in Kosovo for her anymore, she wants to take her husband's bones away so that she can be close to him. She says her mother and father's bones are also here but she is unable to remove them.
Besovic traveled back to the Serbian Orthodox cemetery of Pec with her 60-year-old sister-in-law Dusanka Ivanovic. They were upset to find broken tombstones, but relieved that the graves themselves were undisturbed.
As she watched her relatives being exhumed, Ivanovic explained why this was necessary.
"We live there, our house is there and everything we have is therem," she said. And she added that on April 3 the U.N. Security Council will meet to discuss Kosovo and they will decide whatever they want. She says the international community has been urging Serbs to return to Kosovo but there is nothing to return to of their past lives.
The 16,500 strong NATO peace force is braced for a fresh exodus of Serbs if the Security Council votes to grant Kosovo independence.