Serbian authorities Thursday began exhuming one of the country's largest mass graves believed to contain the bodies of more than 250 Kosovo Albanians killed in the 1998-99 conflict.
"We will only take soil samples today and send them for laboratory analysis to test for the presence of organic matter in the soil" which could indicate the presence of human remains, investigative judge Milan Dilparic of the special Serbian war crimes chamber said.
He did not say when the first results of the probe, carried out in the presence of two forensic scientists from the EU mission to Kosovo EULEX and Kosovo officials, would be announced.
"We don't have a mandate here. We can only observe but it is good that something is undertaken to prove or deny this case. It has been a long time and the time has come to solve this case positively or negatively," Tarja Formisto of the EULEX team charged with handling the issue of missing persons in Kosovo said.
The EULEX representatives "have the possibility to make suggestions but they will not participate in the digging, they will not participate in the analysis done in Belgrade laboratories and do not have the right to question witnesses," judge Dilparic said.
The Serbian authorities in May announced the discovery of the site at Rudnica, near the southwestern town of Raska, three kilometers (two miles) from the border with Kosovo.
It is one of a number where forces under then-strongman Slobodan Milosevic moved civilian remains from Kosovo at the end of the war and reburied them elsewhere in Serbia in a bid to hide war crimes.
More than 800 bodies of Kosovo Albanians were exhumed from three mass graves found in Serbia in 2001.
A total of 1,862 people are still unaccounted for from the Kosovo war between ethnic Albanian separatists and the Serbian military. More than 1,000 are from Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.
The conflict in Kosovo claimed the lives of around 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians. The war ended after a NATO bombing campaign in 1999 ousted Serb forces from the province, which was then put under UN administration.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 — a move recognized by the United States and most EU member states, but challenged by Belgrade.
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