Fear outlives the massacre Three small children of slaughtered family survive in Kosovo

October 17, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

TRDEVAC, Yugoslavia -- Somehow, they survived the killings in the forest, when their pregnant mother was killed and her belly cut open and 17 other family members were slaughtered.

Somehow, their lives were spared, as they were taken into a room where three old people were tortured and murdered.

And when it ended, they were discovered sitting in an old woman's garden, wearing clean clothes and stunned expressions.

These are Luljeta Deliaj's three children, little witnesses to a massacre that shocked the world. When Besnik, 4, Liridona, 3, and Arlinda, 1, survived, a piece of their mother lived on.

"We will never have a normal life again," says Sabria Haziraj, the children's 58-year-old grandfather. "We are handling things very well according to what we have suffered."

The grandmother, Hava, helps care for the children, while grieving for her daughter. The family brings out a worn picture of Luljeta, a petite woman with light brown hair, warm eyes and a crooked smile.

"She was my favorite daughter," Hava Haziraj says, wiping tears from her eyes.

When Serbian security forces went on a rampage Sept. 26 in a forest in the Drenica section of Kosovo, they aroused the wrath of world leaders, who had dawdled for months while Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic orchestrated a brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanians.

But few could ignore the brutality of the forest killings, as women and children were murdered in their tracks trying to flee the shelling in the nearby town of Donja Obrinja.

Now, NATO keeps up the threat of airstrikes, and diplomats try to cobble together a deal to bring peace to the province so more than 250,000 refugees can be cared for before winter sets in.

But in this village, the killings were not some last act in a drawn-out diplomatic game. This was a personal catastrophe. Most of those killed were part of the extended Deliaj family. The youngest was 18 months. The oldest was 94.

People here are trying to live with the trauma. They're also trying to survive under desperate conditions.

"We don't have enough equipment, clothes and medicine. We don't even have electricity," says Dr. Gani Halilaj, a 40-year-old psychiatrist, the only known person with medical training in a region where 15,000 people live.

He runs a clinic where the cement floor is caked with dirt, dank water sits in a sink, and bandages lie under a dusty examining table.

"We don't have any antibiotics," he says. "We don't even have any needles. Yes, yes, I am helpless here."

So Halilaj dispenses medical care the only way he knows how, with a kind word, a hug and a kiss. And every day he makes sure to see Luljeta Deliaj's children.

"The boy, Besnik, is traumatized," he says.

A trip to the killing field is a chilling experience. To get there, you drive up a dirt road and across a ridge that is under the gaze of Serbian artillery and snipers.

Then, you pass a checkpoint manned by members of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army and meet the senior commander.

He is asked about the Serbian allegation that the killings could have been orchestrated by the KLA, an allegation virtually no one believes.

"They are an army of genetic hate," the commander says of the Serbians. "The man who believes things like that should be very naive. You cannot massacre your own family, your own blood. These are the people who feed us, who give us shelter."

A gun-wielding escort is supplied, and you walk down a rutted dirt road. Burned buildings, rows of dead corn and wild animals are along the route. So is a scorched bus.

Around a bend is a sobering sight -- an International Red Cross vehicle, blasted apart by a land mine that killed one and left three injured.

And then there is the forest. A woman's scalp lies in a clearing. Days after the massacre, the mutilated bodies of two teen-age girls were discovered here. The escort declines to go farther. The Serbian police are nearby.

Back in town, the little witnesses play in the house where their grandparents, aunts and uncles live, along with a refugee family.

The older relatives say Besnik cries at night when gunfire crackles in the hills, and he dreams of being chased in the forest. Liridona asks when their mother will return from the woods.

They say Besnik has provided just one recollection: that the children were covered in blood before Serbian police put them in clean clothes.

The other details of the killing are sketchy. The family says the police took the children with them as the slaughter ended with the torture and killing of the elderly.

The children's aunt, Safete, says the children were found waiting in a garden.

"They were just numb," she says. "But they were a little happy when they saw someone familiar."

Now, the family wants to restart its life. But there is fear in the village. Some are afraid the Serbian police will return. Others are poised for a long, hard winter.

And all the family members are disappointed that NATO hasn't hit Yugoslavia with airstrikes.

"How could they not attack?" demands the children's uncle, Hasan. "If they don't stop them now, a lot of people will die from having no food and no shelter. The winter is coming."

But politics doesn't really concern this family. They are caring for the children. They are preparing to raise Luljeta's children.

Pub Date: 10/17/98

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