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The Promise of Justice: Burning the Evidence

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Michael Montgomery and Stephen Smith Michael Montgomery and Stephen Smith

Courtesy: American RadioWorks

Serbian security forces incinerated the remains of hundreds of ethnic Albanians in an industrial furnace during the 1999 war in Kosovo. The secret operation was part of a highly organized effort by Serbia's leadership to conceal evidence of possible war crimes from international investigators.

American RadioWorks journalists Michael Montgomery and Stephen Smith investigate what happened.

Members of the Serbian police, army and intelligence services said they took part in an effort to hide war crimes evidence by digging up corpses from mass graves and burning them in the furnace of a lead refinery in northern Kosovo. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the operation was coordinated by an elite unit of the Serbian security service, under orders from close associates of former leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Montgomery interviewing ethnic Albanians in Kosovo Montgomery interviewing ethnic Albanians in Kosovo

Courtesy: American RadioWorks
"The point was not to hide the bodies in graves but to totally destroy them. It would be as if these people never existed," said one Serbian fighter, identified in the documentary only as Branko. "I think our people understood that sooner or later some of these western organizations like the Hague Tribunal might come into Kosovo. We needed a good way to destroy evidence."

So far, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has exhumed around 4,000 bodies and inspected hundreds of gravesites. An additional 3,500 people are officially registered as missing in Kosovo, including hundreds of Serbs and Gypsies.

Smith in Kosovo Serbian Village Smith in Kosovo Serbian Village

Courtesy: American RadioWorks
"The Serbs learned their lesson from Bosnia, destroy the evidence," says Suzzane Ringaardd, who coordinates victim identification in Kosovo for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Last week, ARW's earlier documentary on Serbian atrocities, Massacre at Cuska," won broadcast journalism's top award, the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Gold Baton.

American RadioWorks is the documentary project of Minnesota Public Radio and NPR News. For more information, visit American RadioWorks at their Web site: www.americanradioworks.org