Serbian police have begun exhuming bodies recovered from the Danube River and thought to be Kosovo Albanians that could link ousted leader Slobodan Milosevic to war crimes, the government said Sunday.
Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic told Belgrade radio that the bodies recovered two years ago from a refrigerated truck dumped in the river were being exhumed from a mass grave, but he did not identify its location. He also suggested that there might be more such graves.
"It is now apparent that these mass graves contain more bodies than those found in the truck lifted from the bottom of the Danube," he told the radio.
He gave a figure of 86 bodies. The number of corpses recovered by divers from the truck has been reported to be 50.
Without providing details, Mihajlovic said there had been attempts to destroy evidence and that the ministry would pursue the case.
The recovery of the truck filled with bodies was hushed up by the authorities then serving under Milosevic, and the story emerged only in April through a local newspaper.
Last month, Serbia's new reformist authorities accused Milosevic and close aides of covering up evidence of war crimes against civilians during military operations in Kosovo in 1998-99, saying they had arrived at their conclusions during investigations into the "bodies in the river" case.
It was the first time the new authorities had linked Milosevic to war crimes in Kosovo for which he has been indicted by the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, along with four of his top aides.
The bodies were pulled out of the truck April 6, 1999, about two weeks into NATO's air war against Yugoslavia to halt Belgrade's repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Divers who recovered them were reported to have said they included many women, children and elderly men.
Mihajlovic said Sunday that veils worn by some of the women suggested that the victims came from Kosovo, whose population is predominantly Muslim.
The minister said the evidence suggested that the theory promoted by Serb nationalists that Serbs were the only victims of "a dirty and atrocious war fought from Croatia and Bosnia to Kosovo" during the 10-year breakup of former Yugoslavia was unsustainable.
Yugoslavia's new leadership has not ruled out handing Milosevic over to The Hague, but it wants to try him first at home.