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