PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo’s prime minister urged Serbia on Tuesday to help bring to justice any individuals suspected of responsibility for genocide during the 1998-1999 Kosovo War.
April 27 is Kosovo’s National Missing Person’s Day, when the small Balkans nation remembers ethnic Albanians and Serbs still unaccounted-for from the war. More than 10,000 people died during the two-year conflict, most of them ethnic Albanian civilians and fighters pursuing independence from Serbia, and 1,639 people are still classified as missing.
On April 27, 1999, Serb army troops and paramilitaries dragged at least 377 Albanian men ages 18-36 from a refugee convoy and executed them along the road in Kosovo.
“The executors and those ordering the genocide in Kosovo…should face justice, be charged and sentenced,” Prime Minister Albin Kurti said during a ceremony Tuesday in the capital, Pristina.
Kurti was scheduled to meet with European Union leaders about their efforts to facilitate talks aimed at normalizing ties between Kosovo and Serbia.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008, and Serbia does not recognize its former province as a separate state. Tensions between the two remain high.
Forensic experts from the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, or EULEX, assist Kosovo’s Institute of Forensic Medicine in searching for mass graves and other locations where war victims may have been buried and identifying bodies that are found. One of the main challenges is the considerable number of bodies that were hidden in cemeteries.
“Hiding the body of a missing person in a cemetery is like hiding a book in a library,” Javier Santana, the senior forensic archeologist with EULEX.
“Another important issue is that not all missing persons’ families have given blood samples for DNA analysis,” Tarja Formisto, a forensic anthropologist for the EU mission, said.
Local groups in Kosovo encourage residents to remember the people still missing from the war by turning their lights off for five minutes at 8 p.m.
“Parents and mothers still live in an uninterrupted darkness,” Bajram Cerkini, who works with a local non-governmental organization looking for the missing persons, said.