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Published:
13-Mar-2007

No. 03/99 - November 1999 - Page 10

"Someone has to do it"
(Text: Maj Grethe Oestern - Photo: SSgt Vanessa Klutsch)



Quiet moment: Sgt Urpo Vehkaper back at the graves of the people that the Finnish soldiers helped the ICTY exhume.

Moli Alas: The 22 people who were massacred in Moli Alas in April, have been put properly to rest in new graves now, just a few metres from where their remains were exhumed by the International War Crimes Tribunals this autumn.

The Finnish soldiers are back at the site in Mali Alas west of Lipljan in MNB Centre where they helped the ICTY during the exhumation of the 22 bodies. They supported the ICTY with mine clearance of the graves and the surrounding areas, and with 24 hour guarding of the site and security for the forensic teams and their equipment.

Self-protection

"It might be some kind of self-protection, but since then I have not thought much about what I saw at the mass grave site. I believe I handled it very well mentally. Maybe I was lucky because I had to focus on looking for mines and booby traps. When you are doing mine clearing, you cannot let yourself be extracted by other things. It would be dangerous," says Cpt Janne Herranen.

 

 

The Finnish soldiers also supported the ICTY at two other mass grave sites, at Malo Ribar, where the forensic team exhumed 26 bodies, and at Slovinje, where 25 bodies were found. The work lasted for three weeks in late September and early October, and involved approximately 80 soldiers. They got to see and smell the horror of what actually happened here in Kosovo.

Understanding

"Of course it is hard to see these things, but it was our task to help. We wanted to help. Now I understand more about why we are here, and about the anger, and that the people here will always remember it," says Cpt Herranen.

The Finnish soldiers also saw the wall with the bullet holes, where the Moli Alas victims allegedly were lined up to be shot. The soldiers helped the investigation team find 14 empty cartridges that still were lying on the ground in front of the wall, and dug out one bullet from the wall.

During the exhumation work, the relatives and neighbours of the victims were watching outside the fences, very quietly. The Finnish soldiers that guarded the sites, say that they felt sad standing there, because there were children too in the graves.

Felt helpless

"An old man came and told us about his family that had been killed. I did not know what to say. I felt helpless," says one soldier.

Pvt Kari Mikkola had a special task. He opened the graves for the ICTY with an excavator. He had to dig very carefully, approximately 40-50 centimetres down. When he saw bones or clothes, the ICTY people took over by hand.

"It is hard to explain how it was. I did not know what to expect, what I would see. It is not the nicest thing you can experience. I had the chance to say no. But somebody had to do it."


Indictment: On May 27 1999, the ICTY announced the indictment of, and issued warrants of arrests against Slobodan Milosevic, President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and four other senior Serb and Yugoslav officials. The indictment alleges that, from January to May, forces under the control of the five accused persecuted the Kosovo Albanian civilian population on political, racial or religious grounds. By the date of the indictment, about 740,000 Kosovo Albanians, about one-third of the entire Kosovo Albanian population, had been expelled from Kosovo.

Couldnt have done it without KFOR
(Text: Maj Grethe Oestern - Photo: Cpl Graham Spark)



Exhumation: An international forensic team exhume a body from a mass grave. The ICTY has completed its work at 195 mass grave sites in Kosovo and exhumed a total of 2,108 bodies.

Pristina: "The Tribunal would not have been able to respond to the crisis in Kosovo at all without the active and extensive co-operation of KFOR, says Graham Alistair, the Head of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Mission in Kosovo.

According to Alistair, the co-operation and support extended by KFOR and its soldiers to the ICTY have been excellent.

 

 

They have provided the ICTYs forensic and investigative teams with mine clearing, security, escort, logistical support, supplies and accommodation. They have also reported about potential mass grave sites and put the ICTY investigators into contact with witnesses.

"There has not been one single case where we have gone to the various Multinational Brigades and not been given the support we needed," says Alistair.

Pausing for winter

October 31 marked the completion of this years forensic work in Kosovo. Up until then, the ICTY had received reports of 529 grave sites. Work had been completed at 195 sites and a total of 2,108 bodies had been exhumed. "We would not have been able to complete this many sites without the co-operation of KFOR," says Alistair.

According to the ICTY, the pattern in Kosovo is of a large number of relatively small sites. A few sites did contain the remains of about 100 people, but often the number is much smaller.

Investigations

While the international forensic teams will pause in their work during the winter months, the ICTY continues its investigation into serious violations of international humanitarian law in Kosovo, to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.

Additional investigators have arrived as the investigation focuses on the interviewing of relevant witnesses who may have information about crimes committed during the period of armed conflict.

The forensic work will continue when winter is over, and Alistair says that the ICTY without question will be looking for KFORs support also next year.