Grim portrait of `cleansing' emerges from NATO sources

High-tech spy aircraft, refugee accounts reveal increasingly horrific tale

War In Yugosalvia

April 05, 1999|By COX NEWS SERVICE

ROZAJE, Montenegro -- Using contacts inside Serbia as well as images from spy planes, satellites and unmanned drones equipped with high-altitude cameras, infrared sensors and battlefield-monitoring radar, NATO has mapped out the locales and proportions of a bloodcurdling campaign of destruction and terror.

Further information is provided by terrorized refugees, whose stories are examined and cross-checked through extensive interviews by human rights experts.

Taken together, officials say, the grim oral histories and the high-tech eyes in the sky have documented the ruthless and systematic campaign that heavily armed Serb forces backed with tanks, artillery and, in some cases, combat helicopters have used to drive perhaps a third of all the ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.

In the past week alone, U.S. and British military officials have described:

A coordinated artillery attack, involving at least three different battle groups, on thousands of refugees pinned down in the Pagarusa Valley near the Albanian border.

Shelling in dozens of other places, including Pec and nearby Srbrica.

The abduction of a human rights lawyer in Pristina, who was beaten in front of his family, then hauled off and shot, along with his son.

The torching of scores of communities that have first been purged of ethnic Albanians.

To that record, journalists and human rights experts have been told of other incidents:

In a village outside Rajovac, Serb police backed with tanks lined up some 70 men along a river bank and executed them March 25, just as the mass expulsions were beginning, eyewitnesses told one reporter. "Five of my sons have been killed," Salim Popaj, 68, said as he reached the border town of Kukes, Albania. "I have seen it with my own eyes."

In the town of Velika Krusa, near Kosovo's southern border with Albania, about 40 men were gunned down in a mass execution March 26, according to a farmer from the village. He hid for days from the Serbs before making his way out of Kosovo with a videotape showing bodies strewn about the village.

The tape, shown Saturday by some Western television networks, appears to corroborate interviews with six other refugees who recounted the same massacre to investigators with the New York advocacy group, Human Rights Watch.

In the village of Goden, Serbs lined up about 20 men, many of them school teachers, and forced them to kneel alongside a burning building March 25, according to refugee reports.

"We don't know if they are alive or dead or massacred," said Rokmane Feraj, 33. "My husband was so scared. He was so pale," she said, recalling the last time she saw him, kneeling before a gang of armed Serbs.

Perhaps the most compelling testimony is in the daily waves of refugees pouring over Kosovo's borders in the most rapid exodus in Europe since World War II.

"We see families with very little luggage, ladies in slippers, children with no shoes or socks," evidence of panicked departures, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said.

The campaign of Serb repression has been so chilling that NATO estimated over the weekend that Kosovo, a province roughly the size of Connecticut, might be emptied of its entire Albanian community -- 90 percent of its population of 2.2 million -- in as few as 10 more days.

"Those of us who've grown up in liberal democracies have a hard time truly appreciating what's happening right now in Kosovo," said NATO commander Wesley Clark.

"It's a grim combination of terror and ethnic cleansing on a vast scale. It's being perpetrated largely against defenseless civilians by the last vestige of a hard-core communist dictatorship in Europe," the U.S. Army general told reporters. "Man does not do this to his fellow man."

Clark is not speaking from speculation.

His briefings include extensive aerial photographs, infrared snapshots and other types of imagery. They are taken by military satellites, high-altitude U-2 spy planes, low-flying Predator unmanned aircraft, and other types of reconnaissance planes that keep watch over Kosovo around the clock.

These sources don't catch every act of thuggery, and much of NATO's spy power has been limited by heavy clouds. What Clark has seen of Serb movements and operations, however, has convinced him that much of what the refugees report is true.

The known activities in Kosovo track disturbingly close to the Serb tactics during 3.5 years of fighting in Bosnia, where more than 200,000 civilians were killed.

In the remote town of Srebrenica, some 8,000 people, the vast majority of them civilians, were slaughtered.

Kurt Bassuener, of the Balkan Action Council, a Washington advocacy group that closely monitors conditions in the region, fears similar massacres are unfolding inside Kosovo.

"I think we're going to see mass graves and ethnic cleansing on a scale that makes Srebrinica look rather minor," he said. "I fear the worst."

Pub Date: 4/05/99

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