Jonathan SteeleFigures put on Serb killings too high
Friday August 18, 2000
Nato officials conceded last night that their wartime estimates of the number of Kosovo Albanian civilians massacred by Serb forces might have been too high. They were reacting to findings by forensic experts for the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague who are preparing to complete their work in Kosovo after exhuming about 3,000 bodies.
Not all of the dead can be proved to be victims of murder or execution.
The war crimes teams have dug up 680 corpses this year at 150 sites. Added to the 2,108 found last year, the total is well below the murder estimates, ranging from 10,000 to 100,000, made during the war. Paul Risley, the Hague tribunal's press spokesman, said yesterday: "The final number of bodies uncovered will be less than 10,000 and probably more accurately determined as between two and three thousand."
Nato's intervention against Yugoslavia was prompted by massive Serb offensives against Albanian villages in Kosovo, which caused hundreds of thousands of civilians to hide in forests or flee across the border. There were frequent killings of unarmed civilians.
During the Nato airstrikes, when the Serbs restricted access to Kosovo, there was no way to verify atrocity reports. But Nato officials talked of 100,000 missing men and said at least 10,000 had been killed. Mark Laity, the acting Nato spokesman, said last night: "Nato never said the missing were all dead. The figure we stood by was 10,000. If it's wrong, I'm prepared to put up with a little bit of egg on our face if thousands are alive who were thought to be killed.
He added: "Nato is always going to lose. If there were 100,000 dead we would be criticised for entering Kosovo late. If it's a few thousand, we're criticised because people say there wasn't a crisis."