Kosova Crisis Center
link to alb-net
|Updated at 5:30 AM
on April 18, 1999
24 Hours Over Kosova
Serbian Forces vs. Albanian Civilians
KLA Progress Reports
"Do you have children?"
By Peter Finn Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, April 18, 1999; Page A1
TIRANA, Albania - In an empty farm shed in the southern Kosova village of Velika Krusa, Selami Elshani asked one of the Serbian paramilitaries standing in front of him and 14 other ethnic Albanian men if he had children. "Yes," the Serb replied. "Please think about our children," pleaded Elshani. The paramilitary, carrying an automatic rifle and wearing a light green uniform with white epaulets and "Policija" written in white letters on his back, shook his head and said, "It doesn't interest me." Another paramilitary said, "Let's start." Within moments, 14 of the 15 men were dead, all except Elshani. The Serbs threw straw on the pile of bullet-riddled corpses, doused them with gasoline and set them on fire. Three weeks later, in Tirana's Central University Hospital, Elshani eased himself into a sitting position using his elbows to avoid leaning on his heavily bandaged hands. When unbandaged, his face, once angular and bronzed, appeared destroyed: lips reduced to pus and scabs; bloody sores bub bling from his singed hair to under his chin; cheeks dried white and black; bandages, streaked red by blood and yellow by iodine, wrapping his forehead. Elshani grimaced as he rose from the bed. But he was determined. He had a story to tell: how 14 men were executed in cold blood. How their blood trickled down his face as he dared not breathe. How he smelled the gasoline when a paramilitary brought it into the room. How he burned. And how he survived. "God saved me to come out and tell," said Elshani, 37. In a bed where seepage from his wounds streaked the sheets with blood, in a cinder-block hospital where the pink and green walls were rotting and peeling, in a city of refugees and garbage and dust, Elshani was perhaps the most fortunate and the most cursed of the displaced. "If I could not talk, nobody would know," he said. "Those men. Nobody would know." On March 25, the day after NATO started bombing Yugoslavia, about 50 people from the same extended family gathered in the house of Elshani's uncle. Elshani, his wife, his parents and his two boys, ages 4 and 8, had been living in Velika Krusa since the previous July when they were burned out of their home village of Reti, near the town of Rakovica, during a summer offensive by Yugoslav forces. There were 10 fighting-age men in the house the night after the bombs began to fall, and they decided to flee to a nearby riverbank, fearing that any Serbian assault on the village would target them. "We had to leave," said Elshani, "because we knew the Serbs wanted the men." When the 10 men reached the river about 10 p.m. they found about 200 other men hiding there as well as dozens of women and children. It was cold and the children were crying. No one had brought any food. By 3:30 a.m., the villagers were surrounded by Yugoslav forces, silhouetted in the distance. Through the night, random gunfire pierced the darkness. In the morning light, the villagers were ordered to emerge with their hands above their heads. The women were taken to the village mosque, and the men were lined up in six rows on either side of a road running through Velika Krusa. One by one, they were searched and stripped of money, identity papers and car keys. When the search was over, the 200 men were ordered into an open area beside a farmhouse. They lay on the ground, face down, with their hands behind their heads. Out on the street, the men had been searched by Interior Ministry troops or special police forces, but in the courtyard they were guarded by about 20 Serbian paramilitaries. "The normal police were calm," said Elshani, "but the paramilitaries were screaming. They said we were terrorists." Elshani said he recognized one of the Serbs as a civilian from the village of Velika Hoca, near Elshani's home. For five hours, the paramilitaries moved among the ethnic Albanians, hitting them with wood. Elshani's right hand was broken. Five or six men were taken away individually, but Elshani said he never heard gunshots or screaming. "I don't know what happened to them," he said. "We never saw them again." After five hours, the men were ordered to stand and were asked who was not from Velika Krusa. Fifteen men, including Elshani, stepped forward. "I thought they would know I was from Reti," he said. They were marched 50 yards to a shed that had housed farm animals but was empty except for straw and muck. They were forced into a corner. Elshani knew four of the 14 others: Ylber Thaci, 36; his brother, Isa, 35; and Gezim Berisha, 36, were all from Reti. Fatmir Kabashi, 43, from the village of Zociste, was married to Elshani's cousin. Pressed into the corner, the men begged for their lives. "We asked them to set us free," said Elshani, who was standing at the front of the men. "We said, 'We have done nothing.' I said, 'Mister, is there any possibility to let us go. We are not terrorists.' "In the end, they said, 'Go ask Bill Clinton,'" said Elshani. "That's when we knew we would die." Five men lined up in front of them with Kalashnikov automatic rifles. They fired a couple of rounds and Elshani fell to the ground. He wasn't hit. He just fell. A burst of gunfire erupted and bodies fell on top of him. Blood from the victims streamed down Elshani's face. He lay face up, his eyes closed, with one of the victims lying almost completely on top of him. "I felt his blood trickle on my face," he said. The paramilitaries continued to fire into the corpses and Elshani was lightly grazed on the shoulder. The Serbs then covered the bodies with straw, soaked it in gasoline and lit it. "I was mad with fear," said Elshani. The body on top protected him some, but the heat became intense. Elshani didn't know, however, if the Serbs were still around, and if crawling out meant certain death. "I had to come out of the fire or die burned alive," he said. "It felt like an hour in the flames even though it was a very short time. It was horror for me. "I pushed the body aside and opened the straw with my hands and that's when my face and hands were burned." Elshani rolled out screaming, oblivious now to his fear of the Serbs. His clothes were on fire. He pulled them off, stripping flesh from his hands. He ran screaming from the room and out into the yard where he found some water. "That helped me find my senses," he said. Out on the street, he said, there were about 20 corpses. He recognized two of his cousins, Ramadan Ramadani, 36, and his brother, Afrim, 35. He didn't know the others. "I looked at them carefully," he said. "I saw some people with half of their heads gone away." Elshani ran to his uncle's house, where he found his father, uncle and two other relatives, all elderly men. They started in fright, and no one seemed to recognize him. "I said, 'It's me, it's me,'" said Elshani, "and they started to cry." >From March 26 to April 1, the men hid Elshani in the basement, treating his burns with yogurt. "I was conscious. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't move my hands. Terrible pain," he said. On April 1, an ethnic Albanian came to the house and said everyone was leaving. Elshani was hidden under blankets on the back of a tractor carrying elderly men. They made it across the border without being searched. At an Albanian military hospital in Kukes, doctors cleaned Elshani's hands and face but told him he had to get to Tirana for treatment. There was no ambulance to take him, so one of Elshani's relatives paid a local taxi driver his last 300 marks to take the two of them to the Albanian capital. Here, Elshani has had three skin grafts, and two more surgeries are planned. But doctors said they cannot offer him plastic reconstructive surgery, which they believe he will need. After nearly a week at the hospital, Elshani saw his wife walk through the door. The relative who brought Elshani to Tirana found her and Elshani's sons at a refugee camp in the southern Albanian city of Fier. The family had fled into the hills for four days on March 26 and then joined a convoy of refugees going to Albania. "They told me he was a little burned," said Mahije Elshani, 33, who now lives in her husband's hospital room, tending his bandages and delicately spooning food into his mouth. "I asked him, 'Do you hear me?' He said, 'Yes.' And I fainted." She fainted twice more that day. A stream of visitors, mostly relatives, comes to see Elshani every day. And this week, officials from the war crimes tribunal at The Hague also came by to take a statement from Elshani. They refused to discuss the case, but Elshani said they told him they hope to bring those who killed the 14 men to justice. Two people have not come to see Elshani - his sons, Leotrim, 8, and Nderim, 4, who are being sheltered by an Albanian family. "I can't have the kids see me," said Elshani. "They can't see me." © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company
LONDON, April 18 (UPI) -- The British newspaper the Independent reports Serbian forces in the Yugoslav province of Kosova are using captured ethnic Albanians as ``slaves'' to dig mass graves and clear up the evidence of atrocities. The newspaper said in an article published today, the ``slave,'' units dressed in red overalls, include many soldiers from the rebel Kosova Liberation Army and that the captured persons have been seen by fleeing ethnic Albanian refugees. The newspaper reported NATO believes the units are used to transport bodies away from the sites of massacres and bury them. The report goes on to say captured KLA members ``and other ethnic Albanian men who have been taken prisoner by the Serbs'' are forced to work under armed guard. NATO reportedly also believes prisoner ``slaves'' are dressed in red overalls to make them easily identifiable to their guards. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea has said ``There is now mounting evidence of detentions, summary executions and mass graves,'' adding that there are refugee accounts of executions in at least 50 towns and villages in recent days. Two of these involved 45 Kosovar Albanians who were ambushed and killed, and another where 60 were murdered. Britain has already compiled details of more than 87 incidents in breach of international law -- including massacres, bombings and mass rapes -- of ethnic Albanians in Kosova. Britain last week appointed David Gowan, a senior Foreign Office official as Kosova War Crimes Coordinator, responsible for compiling data.
WASHINGTON, April 18 (AFP) - The scale of Serb atrocities in Kosova may be much greater than previously thought, with the possible death toll running into tens of thousands, a senior official in President Bill Clinton's administration indicated Sunday. "We have upwards of 100,000 men that we cannot account for" in Kosova, David Scheffer, the administration's ambassador-at-large for war crimes, told Fox News Sunday. He said that NATO estimates of some 3,200 deaths in Kosova were "very low." Scheffer produced an aerial photograph of what he said was a fresh mass grave site in Kosova which he described as "a classic example of ethnic cleansing." "If you look at what refugees are coming out reporting to us, which we cannot confirm yet, you are actually looking at the possibility of tens of thousands of Kosovars who not only are at risk but also may actually have perished by this stage." He said many Kosovar Albanian men had just disappeared: "we have no idea where they are now." Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whose forces are driving Kosovar Albanians from their homes, could be indicted for war crimes, he indicated. "He is certainly a prime target for investigation," Scheffer added.
1.17 a.m. ET (518 GMT) April 19, 1999
The Associated Press 4/18/99 4:30 PM By ANGELA CHARLTON Associated Press Writer MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's newly appointed special envoy to Yugoslavia on Sunday ruled out Russian military intervention in the Kosova crisis. Former premier Viktor Chernomyrdin also criticized plans to join Yugoslavia to a union between Russia and Belarus, saying they were premature and impossible to implement as long as Yugoslavia is being bombarded by NATO. Russia fiercely opposes NATO's airstrikes on Yugoslavia, but its response has been largely symbolic because its military is weakened and its economy is in shambles. Dragging Russia's military into the conflict would mean another world war, Chernomyrdin said on Russia's Itogi news program. "Everyone should understand that," he said. "That's why (military intervention) is absolutely ruled out." While President Boris Yeltsin has said Russia wouldn't support Yugoslavia militarily, Russian leaders have warned that the NATO assault, which aims to drive Serb troops out of the ethnic Albanian enclave of Kosova, could lead to a wider war. Russia has been eager to play a role in settling the conflict, though Moscow's repeated attempts to find a political solution have failed. Yeltsin put Chernomyrdin, a longtime prime minister with good relations with many Western leaders, in charge of Russia's efforts to negotiate a settlement in Yugoslavia last week. Chernomyrdin said Sunday that he has long, strong ties with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Chernomyrdin has said he would likely visit Belgrade and Washington, though he refused Sunday to disclose any specific travel plans. Regarding the decision last week by Yugoslavia's parliament to join the Russia-Belarus union, Chernomyrdin was skeptical. While he said he supported the theory, he added, "It raises the question of why didn't we do it before." Speaking on Russia's Zerkalo television program, he said it was logistically almost impossible to implement now, "while there's a war going on." Meanwhile, the pro-Western president of Montenegro, the smaller of two remaining republics in Yugoslavia, welcomed Russian mediation efforts but slammed the union proposal. "Milosevic wants to pull Russia into this conflict and start World War III," Milo Djukanovic said on Itogi. "Milosevic is capable of this ... but the results will depend on Russia's position."
Sunday, April 18, 1999 They've been called freedom fighters, ragtag irregulars, even heroin peddlers. Barely 10,000 strong, they dart in and out of Kosova from bases in Albania and Macedonia, hectoring Serb troops with mortars and small-arms fire and looking for a chance to wrest their war-torn homeland from the clutches of Slobodan Milosevic. They are the Kosova Liberation Army. And, given NATO's refusal to deploy American and European foot soldiers in the Balkan war, they are the nearest thing to a fighting force that can do what experts agree is essential for the military defeat of Serbia: seize and hold territory in Kosova. But are they up to the task? ``At the moment, the KLA is not an effective fighting force, which means that if the West ultimately decides to endorse independence for Kosova, we are going to have to line up NATO's muscle behind them,'' said Anne Henderson, a Balkans specialist at Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina and member of the team that helped put in place the Bosnian peace accords in 1995. ``They lack the training, the bases, the supply lines and the necessary knowledge of war strategies to prevail.'' But Tim Judah, author of ``The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia,'' defends the KLA's potential as a liberation army. ``Hard-pressed as it is, the KLA is far too important an element in Kosovar politics to be excluded from a deal,'' he says. ``Even if it faces defeat at the hands of the Serbs, a rapidly filling reservoir of tens of thousands of angry men in refugee camps in Albania will provide it with willing recruits to wage guerrilla war for years to come.'' What is loftily known today as the Kosova Liberation Army was born humbly enough in the 1980s, when a few dozen Kosova Albanians living as guest workers in Germany gathered to share visions of an armed uprising against Serbs in their native province. But despite the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran, Afghanistan and other parts of Asia in the 1980s and 1990s, Kosova's 1.8 million Albanian Muslims showed no immediate appetite for a holy war against Serbia. Instead, they rallied behind a pacifist leader, Ibrahim Rugova, sharing in his belief that military action would trigger a bloody backlash by Milosevic. For much of the decade, would-be KLA warriors were forced to satisfy themselves by sniping at Serb special police and sabotaging the occasional armored personnel carrier. Lacking adequate automatic weapons, they also turned in frustration to Albanian heroin traffickers to earn the hard currency they needed to arm themselves, European drug police say. ``We have credible evidence linking the KLA to Albanian heroin dealers,'' said Walter Kege, a spokesman for the European police agency Europol. ``Ethnic Albanians are now a very prominent group in the distribution of heroin to the West, and it is clear that a lot of that cash has been used to buy some weaponry for the KLA.'' The KLA's arms shortage was resolved unexpectedly in 1997, when the post-Communist regime in neighboring Albania collapsed, and its army and police were disbanded overnight. Armories and munitions depots were quickly looted. Estimates have it that a million Kalashnikov assault rifles flooded into regional arms markets, many selling for about $15. Armed and emboldened, more and more Kosovars began rallying around a small ring of hard-liners living in Drenica, a southern region bordering on Albania. Their charismatic chieftain was 54-year-old Adam Jashari, who soon demanded that Kosova secede from Serbia and unite with Albania. In March 1998, Serbian special police attacked Jashari's stronghold, killing him, wiping out his 75 acolytes, including 25 women and children, and burning his ancestral property to the ground. Soon after, 6,000 enraged KLA troops were encamped in the hills, and their war with Serbia had begun. ``Since the NATO attacks, the ranks of the KLA have swollen to at least 15,000 regular fighters and 15,000 `irregulars' - including eager but raw middle-class recruits, rifle-toting villagers, Islamicists, hard-line Albanian Communists and the inevitable mercenaries,'' says a report from Jane's Intelligence Review, an authoritative British military guide. ``They are meagerly armed, but well motivated, and they are developing into a force to be reckoned with.'' Reports out of Kosova suggest that the rebels are taking heavy casualties from the better-trained Serb marauders, who outnumber them four to one. On Friday, their spokesman reported 13 KLA killed and 34 wounded in a skirmish at the Albanian border. Expatriate volunteers are enlisting to go home and fight, but reports are emerging that the KLA has forced men to join to bolster their ranks. ``There is nobody else, in terms of people fighting on the ground,'' said Ilir Zherka of the Albanian-American Council in Washington. ``Increasingly, the only logic is to arm Kosova Albanians - let them fight and win their own war.'' A deep difference of opinion over that logic has infiltrated political circles in Western Europe and Washington. And given the U.S. decision late last week to call up reservists, and with the onset of the fifth week of NATO's air strikes, the split over a long-term strategy for the KLA is cutting starkly across ideological lines. In Washington, Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) have joined on a proposal to spend $25 million to arm and bolster the KLA rebels. McConnell recently called them ``a credible, capable and willing alternative to the deployment of Americans'' in Kosova. That point of view is directly at odds with the aims of the Clinton administration. Secretary of Defense William Cohen says arming the rebels will ``make the Balkans conflict worse'' in the short term. ``If we start to support arming the KLA,'' he said, ``you will then invite other nations to start rearming the Serbs, and you will intensify combat and conflict there rather than demilitarizing it.'' Europeans, meanwhile, are also divided over the wisdom of creating a powerful new army in the already volatile Balkans arena. Most of the NATO nations have taken the formal position that Kosova ``lacks the resources and infrastructure'' to be viable as an independent nation, and that after the war ends it should be rebuilt as ``an autonomous yet interdependent province of Greater Serbia.'' That argument runs against arming and augmenting the KLA. But some see the slow, clumsy progress of the air war as leading inevitably to a formal military relationship between NATO and the KLA, with the guerrillas doing the messy work of ground war. ``If air power doesn't bring Milosevic to the table, and neither NATO nor the American people accept the idea of ground casualties, we're left with arming the Albanians,'' said Rajan Menon, a foreign affairs professor at Lehigh University and former adviser to European governments. ``But if we do so, we'd better be clear that we're changing our avowed strategy from autonomy to independence for Kosova. After the mayhem Milosevic has rained upon Kosova, it is inconceivable that the KLA would settle for less.''
24 Hours Over Kosova
Malishevė, April 18th (Kosovapress) Today, since 7 o'clock in the morning the serbian forces with tanks and heavy artillery and also with infantry, attacked the civil population displaced in the gorges of the mountains of Berishė. The serbian forces have attacked from their positions in Tėrpezė and Krizharekė, having as target to catch, massacre and deport in Albania the civil population displaced, which reaches the number 40 000. The units of KLA are making resistance to the terrorist serbian forces, defending the civil population. The bad weather with rain and wind, is making also difficult, the situation of the displaced population in danger.
Podjevė, April 18th, (Kosovapress) Today, since the early hours of the morning, the serbian forces equipped with vehicles and infantry, have begun a general attack against the villages with displaced population, in the east of Podjevė, in the region of Gallapi; in Tėrrnavė, Bellopojė and Gėrdoc. The displaced population in these villages, about 250 000, is for the moment under the encirclement of the serbian forces. Today, there are movements of the serbian forces from the direction Gjilan which is linked with this region by the village Bernicė. So, the civil population is actually surrounded by the three sides. Fierce fighting are for the moment taking place, while the units of KLA are facing serbian forces in defense of the displaced population.
Malishevė, April 18th (Kosovapress) Today, since 7 o'clock in the morning, in some villages of Malisheva, massive movements and reinforcements of the serbian terrorist troops have taken place. They, have attacked then with heavy artillery, the albanian population and the displaced population. Massive forces with 6 tanks, two transporters, etc, have assailed toward Malishevė and Gurbardhi, and have been positioned in the village of Panorc. Movements of serbian forces can be seen in the whole triangle Llapushnik-Kijevė-Malishevė, while the concentrations have taken place mainly in Vermicė and Drenoc, where there are anti-air systems, too. In this region are sheltered more than 60 000 displaced civilians from the villages of Malisheva, which are under the danger of the serbian forces that have as a target their capture, massacring and their deportation toward Albania. The situation of the population is very gave and it is getting worse in a dramatic way. Our sources inform about the very low moral, mainly of the serbian soldiers, which are deserting massively from the criminal army of the fascist regime of Belgrade.
Expulsion of Albanians Accelerates
KLA Progress Reports
Llapushushnik, April 18th (Kosovapress) Fierce combation between units of KLA and serbian terrorist forces took place at the rock of Kizhareka near Llapushnikut. A diversant enemy unit had achieved to penetrate in the hills but soon they faced in the specially units of the 121 Brigade leaded by the commander Ajvaz Berisha. A fierce combat was developed during this confrontation using automatic guns and bombs and as result of this confrontation many serbian terrorist are being killed, thus serbian terrorists were forced to retreat. Two freedom soldiers are killed while 4 others are being wounded.
Malishevė, April l8th (Kosovapress) The terrorist serbian forces have even today attacked the villages Lladroc and Tėrpezė of the commune of Malishevė. During the fierce fighting with the units of KLA, a jeep has been destroyed and two members of the serbian terrorist forces have been killed. On this occasion, these means are caught: a machine-gun, two guns, a sharpshooter gun, as well as a big quantity of munition. There were 2 wounded soldiers from the KLA units. The fighting has lasted until the hours of the night. From Fushtica e Poshtme, commune of Gllogocit, the serbian forces have attacked with projectileluonchers, the gorges of the mountains where the civil population has been sheltered, but there have been no consequences.
Prishtina, April 18th (Kosovapress) Today, in Gallap, there have been attacks of the terrorist serbian forces. The infantry forces accompanied also with heavy war machinery, have attacked many villages of Gallapit, near Prishtina. The serbian forces have attacked from these directions: from the direction of Slivovė. The serbian troops have entered, looted and burnt the villages: Mramor and Busi, while have attacked with grenades: Gėrbeshi, Vitia etc. The KLA units have made great resistance and have incurred no losses. The displaced civil population, is stirred from these attacks and has massively gone toward Prishtina. The column of the carts and vehicles from Prishtina along the road to Keqekolla, has been about 10 km long, while the serbian forces have stopped it in the entrance of Prishtina and have obstacles it to enter in the city.