UN court launches mass grave probe in Croatia

KARLOBAG, Apr 12, 2000 -- (Reuters) UN war crimes investigators were in Croatia on Tuesday searching for evidence of alleged war crimes against Serbs, witnesses and officials said.

"I can confirm a small team of ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia) is in the area, conducting liaison and preliminary security and safety activities with full cooperation of local authorities," said Steve Chambers of the Hague-based tribunal's prosecutor's office.

He declined to give any other detail.

A small team of investigators arrived on Saturday and set up a base in the Adriatic tourist resort of Karlobag.

They were to search for evidence of war crimes near the small town of Gospic where dozens of Serb civilians were killed by Croatian army and police forces during Croatia's war for independence in the autumn of 1991.

At least three witnesses, engaged in the Croatian army at the time, said in public that they had offered testimony and evidence of atrocities to the tribunal.

One of them told Reuters on Tuesday that investigators had a pretty good idea of the possible locations of mass graves.

Bad weather and difficult terrain strewn with unmarked minefields left from the 1991-95 Croat-Serb conflict were expected to slow down the operation.

The new Croatian government last week allowed excavations, reversing the policy of late President Franjo Tudjman, who had not cooperated with probes into crimes allegedly committed by Croatian troops.

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