WASHINGTON, Dec 10, 1999 -- (Reuters) The United States said on Thursday it estimated Serbian forces killed about 10,000 Kosovo Albanians between March and June this year, almost five times more than the number of bodies exhumed from mass Graves thus far.
The figure is at the higher end of recent estimates, but much lower than numbers circulated during the air war against Serbia before NATO troops moved into the province in June.
The U.S. State Department, in a report titled "Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo: An Accounting," based its estimate on exhumation work by international investigators, reports by Kosovo Albanian survivors and other sources.
The international investigators said in November they had unearthed 2,108 bodies from 195 grave sites in Kosovo, mostly of ethnic Albanian victims of Serbian ethnic cleansing.
Chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, briefing the Security Council in November, said she wanted to complete the collection of evidence from 334 other common graves by next year.
The State Department report said if the pattern at the first 200 or so sites held true for the other sites, the total number of people buried at known sites would be more than 6,000.
Other ethnic Albanians lie buried in unknown mass graves, at some sites the international investigators cannot work out the precise number of bodies, and Serbian forces burned or destroyed some bodies, the report said.
"The number of victims whose bodies have been burned or destroyed may never be known, but enough evidence has emerged to conclude that probably around 10,000 Kosovar Albanians were killed by Serbian forces," it said..
NATO said in June it thought Serbs killed 10,000 ethnic Albanians over the three-month period, up to the time Serbian forces withdrew and let in NATO troops.
During the war, when information was hard to come by, Western leaders speculated the death toll was much higher. U.S. Defence Secretary William Cohen said up to 100,000 ethnic Albanian men were missing and might have been murdered.
At a briefing to introduce the report, war crimes ambassador David Scheffer said revisionists were trying to play down the number of ethnic Albanians killed in Kosovo.
"In the last few weeks a number of scholars and historians have thoroughly debunked the revisionists. The number of actual whole bodies reported in the press tells only part of the story," Scheffer said.
The 103-page State Department report, mostly a listing of grave sites and villages destroyed by Serbs, also repeated allegations that Serbian forces used ethnic Albanians as human shields, carried out summary executions, and systematically raped ethnic Albanian women in at least two towns, Pec and Djakovica, in homes and on the sides of roads.
"There are probably many more incidents (of rape) that have not been reported because of the stigma attached to the survivors in traditional Kosovar Albanian society," it said.
The report included accounts of Albanian retaliation against the province's Serbs since NATO took over.
It said between 200 and 400 Kosovo Serbs have been killed and thousands of Serb homes torched, destroyed or looted. It quoted the Serbian Orthodox Church as saying more than 40 churches and monasteries were destroyed or damaged.
James Dobbins, special adviser for Kosovo and Dayton implementation, said the current death rate was lower than in many U.S. urban areas but still too high.
"We have a long way to go before the level of security, and particularly security for minorities, is considered adequate," he told the same briefing.
U.S. and other Western politicians have tried to persuade the Kosovo Albanians to embrace reconciliation with their Serb neighbors, with limited success.
The report said there was no evidence the former leadership of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the ethnic Albanian armed resistance group, was orchestrating the violence.
But it also said, "Kosovar Albanians have neither identified the perpetrators of these crimes, nor has the condemnation of these abuses by leaders of the Kosovar Albanian population been as broad, sustained or effective as circumstances warrant."
It said that in other legacies from the Kosovo war up to 23,000 conscientious objectors, draft evaders and deserters from the Yugoslav army may face trial in Yugoslavia, and at least 2,000 ethnic Albanians remain in Serbian detention.
"The United States government calls upon Serbian authorities to release all imprisoned conscientious objectors, account for and unconditionally return detained Kosovar Albanians to their families in Kosovo, and return legal proceedings against both groups immediately," it added.
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