Serbs attack again at massacre site

As bodies await burial, Racak hit with mortars and machine gun fire

January 18, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

RACAK, Yugoslavia -- Even as the frozen corpses of massacre victims lay waiting for burial, 40 bodies placed in rows that filled a mosque's floor, Serbian security forces attacked this village again.

Yugoslav leaders ignored a world of condemnation and pleas for restraint from foreign peace monitors, and cheered as paramilitary police hit Racak with machine guns and mortar shells for several hours yesterday.

In what Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitors called a clear cease-fire violation, Serbian security forces also sealed off several nearby villages.

NATO ambassadors meeting yesterday in Brussels, Belgium, decided not to order airstrikes against Serbian targets in reprisal for the renewed violence here in the Serbian province of Kosovo. Instead, the alliance will send its two top generals to Belgrade, the Serbian and Yugoslav capital, to deliver what NATO called a final warning to both sides.

But U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO's supreme commander, and German Gen. Klaus Naumann have delivered ultimatums to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic several times before. And many ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's population, say they gave up waiting for NATO to intervene long ago.

In Racak yesterday, unarmed foreign peace monitors, powerless to stop the Serbian advance, retreated swiftly to protect themselves, leaving scores of frightened refugees to find their own way down from the hills and across battle lines.

The refugees left behind their dead, most in the mosque turned morgue. Five or more victims still lay where they fell as police moved through Racak Friday in what they insist was a fight with terrorists, and terrorists alone, who had attacked them.

One of their victims was 12-year-old Halim Beqiri, a sandy-haired boy whose body lay beside one of the mosque's white walls, with the corpse of his father, Riza, on one side and that of his uncle Zenel Beqiri on the other.

Beqiri's body was still fully dressed in several layers of clothes and thick socks he had worn to fight the cold. But his corpse had no shoes. One of the boy's cousins, Aziz Beqiri, lifted a small blanket to show the child's head, and a bullet hole at the top -- the only wound on his small body.

"These are not all of the dead," Beqiri, gesturing around the mosque, said through an interpreter. "There are many left behind in the village and the mountains."

As he spoke in the nearly deserted Racak, Serbian government leaders in Belgrade and in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, were more defiant than ever in the face of NATO condemnation.

Far from backing down, top Yugoslav leaders ordered U.S. Ambassador William Walker's multinational team of about 700 peace monitors to mind their own business or get out of Kosovo.

The chief committee of Milosevic's ruling Social Party responded to Walker's allegations of mass murder with effusive praise for the security forces of Serbia, the dominant of Yugoslavia's two republics.

"All citizens highly respect the bravery and determination of the members of the Serbian Ministry of Interior [police] and Yugoslav army [soldiers] in their showdown with terrorists and their protection of our state borders," the party statement said.

Ethnic Albanian rebels known as the Kosovo Liberation Army fought Serbian forces for about eight months until the threat of NATO airstrikes forced Milosevic to agree on Oct. 12 that he would pull back most of his forces and halt all offensives.

That deal is quickly falling apart as attacks by both sides lead to counterattacks and Kosovo slides ever closer to all-out war again.

Yesterday's fighting broke out when police moved against Racak without warning to clear the way for Yugoslav Judge Danica Marinkovic and a police colonel to conduct their own investigation of Friday's killings of at least 45 ethnic Albanian villagers.

At the government's request, British Gen. John Drewienkewicz, deputy chief of the foreign monitors, negotiated with the guerrillas to let the judge visit as long as no armed police came with her.

Drewienkewicz met with the judge and police officials in nearby Stimlje for more than 90 minutes yesterday morning, trying to persuade them that the monitors could get her into Racak safely without police.

But, while police set up mortars and armored vehicles along the road near Racak, the judge announced that she would go in with an armed force. The shooting started five minutes later, Drewienkewicz said.

The repeated tirades from Belgrade, and renewed attacks on the village where police killed men, women and at least one child Friday, left few here doubting that the killers acted on orders.

"They wanted to do this. It was their plan to make us go into the woods and shoot us there," said Imri Jakupi, a villager who survived the massacre by playing dead in an icy-cold brook for six hours.

In Washington, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin condemned yesterday's violence, also calling Serb moves "a provocation." He said any massacre investigation should be done by an international war crimes tribunal.

Senior officials from the State Department and the Pentagon met for a second day to discuss strategy on Kosovo, and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright discussed the situation by telephone with several allied foreign ministers.

Pub Date: 1/18/99

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