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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serbia Investigates Mass Grave Containing up to 500 Victims

RUDNICA, Serbia -- Serbia opened an investigation Tuesday into a mass grave believed to contain up to 500 Albanian victims of the Kosovo war, a reminder of why the United Nations is considering independence for the province.

The inquiry began at an abandoned quarry in no-man's land between checkpoints on the two-kilometer-wide boundary dividing Serbia from its southern province, now a UN protectorate.

"We came to check claims that at this location lie the remains of an undetermined number of people," investigative judge Milan Diplaric told reporters. "We don't know if there is even one body."

The site was still unmarked, and journalists were led right over it. Officials would first mark the site and then do a test dig over four to five days, bringing in forensic specialists if they find human remains.

The grave was first mentioned in testimonies given to UN authorities in 2004. Work on the site was due to start months ago, but was postponed because rain water had collected in large puddles that made digging impossible.

A senior Serbian official said Monday that based on data collected through remote sensing he expected "between 300 and 500 bodies" to be found.

He said he believed the bodies were originally buried elsewhere, then dug up, loaded onto four trucks, and dumped at the quarry on June 3, 1999.

That was a week before NATO called a halt to its 78-day bombing campaign over Serbia, after finally forcing Slobodan Milosevic to pull his forces from the territory.

The grave would be the largest discovered in Serbia since 2001.