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Lack of evidence stalls probe into drowning of 3 Kosovo children, UN mission says

Lack of evidence stalls probe into drowning of 3 Kosovo children, UN mission says

An investigation by the United Nations mission in Kosovo into the alleged criminal drowning of three children, which sparked last month's large-scale inter-ethnic violence, has stalled because of a lack of evidence, a spokesperson for the UN police said today.

Neeraj Singh, a spokesman for the police and justice branches of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), told a press conference in the capital Pristina the public prosecutor, investigating judge and case investigator believed the evidence did not support "a grounded suspicion of the commission of a criminal act."

"As such, the matter can proceed no further at this time," he said, adding that the investigation "will be revived" should any further "credible evidence" be uncovered.

Nineteen people were killed, hundreds more injured - including soldiers from the Kosovo international force (KFOR) - and more than 3,200 were uprooted from their homes last month following days of clashes between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, the worst violence the province had seen in the five years since the UN assumed administration. In addition to the casualties, more than a dozen Serb churches were destroyed and the homes of at least 100 Serbs were burned.

According to Mr. Singh, the investigation so far determined that six children from Cabra village crossed a bridge in the evening of 16 March and went over to the Zupce side of the Ibar River. About 500 metres downstream from the bridge two of the children briefly separated from the group and continued further downstream.

The four who remained at the location then entered the river, which was swollen and turbulent. Only one of them, 13-year-old Fitim Veseli, reached the other side of the river. The body of Egzon Deliu, 12, was found in the night of 16 March and that of Avni Veseli, 11, the next morning. One child, Florent Veseli, 9, is still missing.

The only survivor, Fitim, told investigators that two young male Serbs in their early 20's emerged, along with a dog, from one of the houses in Zupce at the top of an escarpment and approached the boys. Fear of the dog prompted the four boys to enter the river.

The spokesperson said there were "very significant" inconsistencies in the accounts given by the child during two separate interviews, and a lack of corroboration of his story. "In fact, it is logically at odds in several respects with other evidence," Mr. Singh said.