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ZAGREB, Croatia -- U.N. war crimes investigators have arrived in the town of Knin to excavate a suspected mass graves of Serb civilians.

The investigators were measuring the local cemetery, where the suspected mass grave of Serbs killed during the Croatian army's 1995 recapture of the town is located, state television said.

Knin, the centre of Serb rebellion against Croatia's independence, was retaken by Zagreb's "Operation Storm" in August 1995, when about 180,000 Serbs fled across the border.

Croatian Helsinki Committee, a human rights watchdog, says that about 400 Serb civilians were killed in the aftermath of the offensive, in which 22,000 houses were burned or bombed.

Tribunal officials declined to reveal any details of what they described as an ongoing investigation.

The probe was announced as a joint operation by The Hague tribunal and Croatian forensic experts seeking to identify the bodies and determine the cause of death.

Retired Croatian general Ivan Cermak, who commanded the Knin area after Operation Storm and has already been interrogated by the tribunal, told the Vecernji List daily newspaper on Tuesday that there were no mass graves there.

"We had tried to identify all the dead, and buried them in separate graves according to international conventions. No war crimes or ethnic cleansing took place there," Cermak said.

"I am glad they have decided to dig. They will see who is in those graves and put an end to the mass grave story," he said.

According to state radio, Croatian war veterans and right wing groups said they would stage protests as soon as the exhumation began.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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