Refugees report killings of civilians by Yugoslavs near rebel stronghold

More than 100 deaths said to have occurred

KLA families targeted

War In Yugoslavia

May 17, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Yugoslav forces have killed more than 100 civilians in three villages in the region that is the birthplace of the guerrilla group fighting for Kosovo's independence, refugees arriving in Macedonia in recent days have reported.

The refugees, describing attacks in the Drenica region, said soldiers herded as many as 60 women and children into a house and then threw hand grenades and fired assault rifles through its windows and doors, killing those huddled inside. The civilians were reported to be family members of a rebel commander, and the reports came from villagers who said they had spoken with survivors.

None of the reports could be independently confirmed. But human rights investigators said refugee accounts suggest that Drenica is emerging as a second area in Kosovo where ruthless attacks are being carried out.

Ben Ward, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said reports suggest that the scale of killings in Drenica may rival those reported to have occurred in a region along Kosovo's border with Albania. That area is also a stronghold of the rebel group, the Kosovo Liberation Army.

"The emerging picture from Drenica suggests a scale of violence that rivals the killings on the Albanian border," Ward said. "We are extremely concerned about the fate of people still trapped inside Drenica."

The refugees say the killings occurred last month and the Yugoslav forces systematically emptied villages around the town of Glogovac as part of an effort to eradicate the rebels from the area, Ward said. After tens of thousands of villagers were herded into Glogovac, they were forcibly expelled to Macedonia during the first week of this month, he said.

The most brutal attack occurred in the village of Poklek late last month, the refugees said.

Miradije Haxhiu, 45, said her family and others in the village tried to flee to nearby Glogovac in the early morning of April 30, but were turned back by Yugoslav soldiers.

That afternoon, she said, Yugoslav soldiers entered the village and opened fire on her home and others in the village. She and her children dove onto the floor and then hid in the basement for six hours.

"Their shots hit the wall," she said. "They nearly killed one of the children."

When they emerged after dark, the home of Hallil Muqolli, a local rebel commander, was burning, she said. The group made their way to a nearby village, Vasileve, where they found a group of women and children from Poklek.

There, she and other villagers spoke with Lumnija Muqolli, the daughter-in-law of the rebel commander. She said Muqolli told her and the others that the Yugoslav soldiers had forced 64 people, most of whom were from the rebel commander's family, into his home. The group consisted of four men and 60 women and children, including five infants, Haxhiu said she was told.

The Yugoslavs threw hand grenades and fired assault rifles into the house, Muqolli said. Muqolli told the other villagers that she, her daughter and another child survived by playing dead and then climbing out a back window before the Yugoslavs set the house on fire. Rebel soldiers later entered the home and found the bodies, Haxhiu said.

Wiping out members of rebel leaders' families is not unprecedented in the area. In September, Yugoslav forces killed 21 members of the Delijaj family, including eight women and five children, in the village of Gornje Obrinje, according to Human Rights Watch. The family had several rebel members.

Pub Date: 5/17/99

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