Ethnic Albanians Wednesday dug up the bodies of loved ones slain in a bloody police crackdown, defying Serb authorities who buried them in a common grave overnight.
Men with shovels and pickaxes unearthed the wooden coffins, rearranged the remains so the heads looked eastward according to Muslim custom. They then reburied the bodies of 50 people killed when Serb police besieged the village of Prekaz in Yugoslavia's restive Kosovo region.Police manned checkpoints on the main road leading into the village, but did not interfere with the muted ceremony on a windswept meadow. The checkpoints prevented a repeat of the mass funeral in a nearby village when 30,000 ethnic Albanians gathered to mourn 25 of their kin killed in the Serbian police crackdown.
The Serbs' repressive rule of Kosovo exploded into violence two weeks ago after secessionist rebels attacked police. Last week, Serbian police cracked down on villages they said harbored militants of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
The Yugoslav government says the official death toll from last week's violence is 46 ethnic Albanians and six Serb police. But the Albanians say as many as 80 or more of their kin died in the two police sweeps.
The Albanians had refused to claim most of the bodies, insisting that independent forensics experts examine them. They said Serbs were trying to cover atrocities with the quick burial, though the Serbs said they acted because the bodies were decomposing.
"People were outraged to hear Serb authorities pressed ahead and buried the victims," Ibrahim Rugova, head of the largest ethnic Albanian party. "We consider this a second violence against those innocents. They were not allowed to have a decent funeral."
Dr. Nasif Goxhuli, a physician in the village of Prekaz, said 18 of the victims had been shot and that many of the others were killed with knives. There was no way to confirm his account independently.
Turmoil in Kosovo has revived fears of a new Balkan conflict. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana announced he was heading to the Albanian capital of Tirana on Thursday.
The Red Cross, which had been trying to get access to the areas where the killings took place, said Wednesday it has temporarily pulled its foreign staffers out of Kosovo because of repeated threats.
Ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs 9-1 in Kosovo. Serbia is now the dominant republic of Yugoslavia.