12,000 Albanians died in Kosovo conflict

LONDON, Jun 23, 2000 -- (Reuters) An estimated 12,000 Kosovar Albanians died during the height of the Kosovo conflict and most of the victims were civilians, U.S. researchers said on Friday.

The death rate was two to three times higher than normal and reached its peak during the months of the NATO air strikes and the increased intensity in Serbian ethnic cleansing.

"Our estimate of 12,000 deaths directly related to war trauma between February 1998 and June 1999 represents the first epidemiological estimate to be obtained for the entire Kosovar Albanian population," said Paul Spiegel and Peter Salama, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

They said their figures, published in the latest edition of The Lancet medical journal, are consistent with other estimates by humanitarian and international groups and U.S. State Department figures.

Although it is difficult to differentiate between civilian and military casualties, they said, the age distribution of casualties, along with information from survivors, suggests that most of the deaths were civilian.

"Our data concur with other reports which indicate that men, and particularly Kosovar Albanian men of military age, were systematically targeted by the Serbian forces," the researchers added in the study.

They collected the information through surveys of 8,605 Albanians in Kosovo who were questioned about deaths during the conflict. Sixty-seven of 105 deaths (64 percent) from February 1998 to June 1999 were attributed to the war, corresponding to 12,000 deaths in the total population.

Men 50 years and older had a higher mortality rate than men of military age.

"Young men, anticipating that they would be targeted, may have fled from their homes in advance of the arrival of the Serbian forces, or they may have left to join the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)," the researchers added.

In addition to providing reliable data for international judicial authorities, the researchers said that the ultimate objective of the study is to prevent or minimize the unnecessary loss of life in the future.

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