Wed 17 Aug 2005 2:20 PM ET

Vandals desecrate Belarus holocaust memorial

MINSK, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Vandals have defiled a memorial to Jewish victims shot by Nazi occupiers in Belarus, a leader of the ex-Soviet state's Jewish community said on Wednesday.

It was the third time the monument honouring the "Yama" (Pit) site where Jews from the Minsk ghetto were shot has been desecrated.

Yakov Basin, Vice-President of the Union of Jewish Organisations, said the vandals had set fire to wreaths and scattered stones placed, according to Jewish tradition, on the graves of victims.

"We have made a statement to the prosecutor's office, but there is of course little hope that anyone responsible will be found," Basin said.

"It's not easy to investigate cemetery vandalism. And it's unlikely anyone will go looking for them."

Ex-Soviet states, particularly Russia, have witnessed a spate of anti-Semitic acts in recent years, prompting Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin to express shame at ceremonies last January marking the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz death camp.

Vandals had already struck at the Yama site in 1992 and 2003. Belarus was among the ex-Soviet states to have suffered the greatest losses in the war, with one in four of its inhabitants being killed in more than three years of occupation.