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Updated: 29 Sept. 1999 KFOR Press Updates

Pristina,
Kosovo

28 Sept. 1999

KFOR Press Conference

with Colonel Vicaire,
Commander of the French Gendarmerie Detachment in Vicaire

Major Roland Lavoie - KFOR Spokesman:

Good afternoon everybody, I am Major Lavoie, this afternoon I have the honour to introduce you to Colonel Vicaire, he is the Commander of the French Gendarmerie Detachment in Mitrovica. So we will be able as a subject matter expert to brief you on the arrests and the gravesite that has been found near Mitrovica. He will make a short statement in French, I will do my best to give you a fair and accurate translation. Do not hesitate after to ask some questions in French or in English and it will be answered and I will do the translation.

Colonel Claude Vicaire - Comd French Gendarmerie Detachment:

I beg your pardon because I speak only French and Chinese optional. So I would prefer that Major Lavoie translates for me.

(Translation:)

I would like to discuss the investigation that has allowed us to discover a grave containing 28 bodies. This investigation is important to my eyes because for the first time the discovery of a mass grave is the result of an investigation. I will relate the facts as of when we started on the 14th April when the raid occurred on the street Popuvic. On the 19th April between 1000 am and 1400 pm, Serb paramilitaries and police did a raid on a street Popuvic in Mitrovica.

During that raid men and women were separated. Twenty three individuals that were residing on that street were isolated and then taken away. It is possible that they have been killed on site. When the French Gendarmerie arrived in Mitrovica on the 26th June they received several complaints about that raid. The difficulty that we had to face was that we had 23 complaints for abducted people but we had no traces or evidence for finding the bodies. One Gendarme conducted this investigation and did a follow up with families to try to gather more information.

During these meetings with families he discovered some elements that allowed us to identify 4 individuals suspected of having been involved in that raid. We proceeded with the 4 arrests as soon as we were able to localise or to find these individuals. Some of these individuals, we found some items that were belongings of those who were abducted. But at this time we did not know where the bodies were. Rumours were heard about that first of them was that all the bodies were burned in the Sebca mine in the furnace.

This important information led us go on the site to check if it was accurate. We went on the site at Sebca and we confiscated the books that allowed us to see when the furnaces were used. We concluded from this analysis that actually the furnaces were stopped shortly before the 14th of April, so it was impossible that the bodies might have been burned there. The rumour already persisted and we wanted to check if it was possible that the furnace could have been used or re-opened or re-used after the 14th April and we used air-photos to see if it was founded or not.

Parallely, with the team of Dr Lecoird from the ICTY, ashes from the furnace where analysed to see if it was the rest of bodies or bones that were burned in them. All these investigations that were pursued of a long period resulted in negative, or brought no evidence. So we worked on another hypothasis, one of them being that the bodies could have been dissolved in acid. This possibility also was not confirmed or was proved to be negative or impossible.

There were also 2 or 3 scenarios that will not be discussed here but the last one was these individuals actually would not have been killed on street Popuvic but brought to Serbia where they could have been taken or killed. That hypothasis, we have to 2 opinions, the first one, was that it could have misled the people to believe that their relatives were still alive. The problem with that is it was inviting, to some extent, individuals to ask money to these families in exchange for information on the whereabouts of their relatives.

Our work, including contact to the population allowed to identify witness in a European country and the judge, that gave us the mandate for that investigation allowed us to interview or question that witness. A team of 2 investigators went in that European country, where they heard witness who drafted the plan where the bodies would be. When the 2 investigators returned, and with the help of helicopters of the Le Claire Brigade in the …. it was possible to do a formal investigation of that site.

At this gravesite we where able to find and count 28 bodies, so there where 5 more bodies than the number corresponding to the missing people of Popuvic street, who were actually 23. (inaudible due to changing of tape) to proceed throughout investigation at this site. So the good work between the ICTY and our own investigators allowed to make substantial and rapid progress in the identification of the bodies.

As of now, at this precise hour, we have identified 9 individuals and we have strong reasons to believe who are seven others on which we are more or less more certain. At this precise hour all the families concerned are in Mitrovica and are presented with photos to allow them to identify the bodies, mainly to the clothing they where wearing when they were killed. The investigation of the Popuvic street progresses very well to the identification of the bodies and to the investigation of the site itself, a question remained concerning the 5 additional bodies that are there.

Two of them were identified with certainty, in a convincing manner, and these bodies will now require more investigation to determine, who and where it happened and what happened to them. This investigation represents a lot of work, which involves 3 months of investigation, 150 procedurals evidence for investigation. It is very important because it also gives a conclusion to the world of several parties involved.

First, Le Claire Brigade, who put at our disposal important means to allow us to pursue an investigation, the Danish Battalion that provided security in that area, the ICTY that will possibly continue to follow this investigation, and which provided also technical, forensic experts and the local judge from Kosovo, who came from the Jack from Mitrovica and also the Gendarmerie through its detachment here and also through its research institute that allowed us to do scientific analysis, not only of weapons that were found on the site, but also ammunition. So that is all for the moment.

Question from Associated Press:

When where the 4 Serbs arrested and where, in North Mitrovica or in some other area?

Answer from Colonel Claude Vicaire - Comd French Gendarmerie Detachment:

When exactly, we do not have the specific date, because it was done over several weeks, but they were arrested in Mitrovica.

Question from France 2:

Can we have the identity of these people who were arrested? And now in what country the person drafted the site and I gave you an indication of the location of the gravesite?

Answer from Colonel Claude Vicaire - Comd French Gendarmerie Detachment:

For the moment it is premature to give details of the identity of the individuals, that provided some information from outside Kosovo.

Question from Radio 21:

The people that you have in custody, would you describe them as former paramilitaries?

Answer from Colonel Claude Vicaire - Comd French Gendarmerie Detachment:

The arrested individuals according to the testimony that we collected were wearing uniforms, but it is to you to draw any conclusions from that.

Question from Los Angeles Times:

Colonel, a couple of weeks ago you were quoted in one of the Albanian papers as saying 4 people had been arrested in connection with a sort of massacre in Mitrovica, is this the same case and if not how many suspects have you arrested in connection of how many separate incidents?

Answer from Colonel Claude Vicaire - Comd French Gendarmerie Detachment:

Since the Gendarmerie Detachment arrived in Mitrovica we have arrested and detained 54 individuals. Some of these are directly concerned or involved in the investigation, others are not, others are not yet.

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