Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memoradum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Kosovar Albanians

  I understand that the Foreign Affairs Committee has asked for our assessment of the number of Kosovar Albanian civilians who died in Kosovo.

  Our estimate for the number killed in Kosovo between June 1998 and June 1999 remains, as the then FCO minister Mr Geoff Hoon said in the House on 17 June, at least 10,000. We base this figure on a variety of intelligence and other sources, including debriefing of refugees, eye witness accounts, reports from NGOs and media reporting. International organisations such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have used the same figure in their reports on the atrocities.

  The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which is responsible for investigating alleged war crimes in Kosovo, is collating the results of forensic work undertaken over the last five months. Carla del Ponte, the ICTY Prosecutor, announced preliminary figures on 10 November. She said that work was complete on 195 of 529 known grave sites and, of the 4,256 bodies reported buried at those sites, 2,108 had been exhumed.

  This does not of course represent the complete picture. Further exhumations have been postponed with the onset of winter. We expect the ground to be sufficiently thawed to allow exhumations to resume in April. So the meticulous forensic work will continue next year, and probably the next.

  Besides known grave sites, we expect other sites to come to light as work progresses. A high proportion of bodies will never be recovered given the degree to which Serb forces, fearing war crimes charges, attempted to destroy bodies, for example by disposing of them in rivers of burning them in houses. Many victims were left where they fell, to be buried in individual graves by their families. Some commentators have mistakenly equated the number of bodies in mass graves with the total number of dead. A large proportion of those killed were not buried in mass graves.

  To support ICTY's effort to gather physical evidence, the UK has made a major contribution to the forensic work. A British forensic team was the first such team operating on the ground after the end of the air campaign. They examined sites of some of the worst atrocities from 18 June to 24 October.

  The number of bodies recovered by the UK team alone was 508, at 70 different sites. The UK was only one of several forensic teams, so to suggest, as some commentators have recently, that the final total of bodies recovered will be only a few hundred is clearly false.

  We will never be able to give the precise total of people killed. But all our evidence still points to at least 10,000.

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