British report atrocities

Evidence uncovered that Serbs tortured, raped and murdered

10,000 Kosovars said killed

Soldiers in Pristina find `torture chamber' in police headquarters

June 18, 1999|By BOSTON GLOBE

PEC, Yugoslavia -- NATO troops "by the hour" are uncovering evidence of wartime atrocities -- mass murder, rapes and torture -- carried out against ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian soldiers and police in Kosovo, British officials said yesterday. They estimated that more than 10,000 Kosovars were killed in at least 100 separate massacres.

As ethnic Albanian refugees who left Kosovo in Europe's largest human displacement since World War II stream back to their towns, their worst fears are coming true. Roads on Kosovo's southern and western tier reek of death and destruction. In the once-bustling city of Pec, nearly every house and store has been burned or bombed out. Family members are missing. NATO officials say they have identified or have heard of 90 mass graves.

In Pristina, Kosovo's capital, British soldiers discovered what officials called a "torture chamber" inside a five-story police headquarters. They found knives, rubber and wooden batons, baseball bats inscribed with Serbian slogans -- one club in the basement bore the words "mouth shutter" -- a wooden crate of brass knuckles, "savage" pornography, and drugs presumably used to sedate victims, said Geoffrey Hoon, Minister of the British Foreign Office. A stack of condoms was also found.

There were tables with straps, apparently used to hold down prisoners; chain saws; hatchets, and batteries with cables.

"It is still hard to credit that our fellow human beings could be guilty of machine-gunning children, systematic rape of young women and girls, digging mass graves and burning bodies to try and conceal the evidence of murder," Hoon said in London. "But this has happened in Kosovo. Fresh evidence is being found all the time."

Outside the police headquarters, Hoon said, the British troops followed a trail of charred paper to an incinerator where Serbian authorities appeared to have burned evidence of the crimes.

In Paris, President Clinton said he was "moved" to see soldiers finding hard evidence of atrocities, and he said that along with resettling Kosovar refugees, the highest priority for NATO should be documenting the war crimes.

"We need to focus on our obligations -- fundamental humanitarian obligations to get the Kosovars home and to continue to uncover whatever evidence of war crimes there is in Kosovo," Clinton said during a news conference with French President Jacques Chirac.

The evidence of atrocities and confirmation of deaths by returning refugees is likely to put pressure on the NATO allies to seize Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who has been indicted by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. But Clinton said peacekeepers will take a "wait and see" approach toward Milosevic's arrest.

A team of forensic investigators from the U.N. court will arrive in Kosovo today to begin documenting the alleged war crimes. They will concentrate on mapping and photographing suspected sites and try to substantiate reports of rape, murder, and torture by Serbian forces, said Jim Landane, a spokesman for the tribunal.

Meanwhile, another drama was unfolding as fearful Serbian civilians, carrying their belongings in packed cars and tractors, formed a column that stretched for miles and moved slowly north from the southeastern region of Urosevac toward the Kosovo border. The U.N. World Food Program reported that 50,000 Serbs have left since last week's peace agreement that sent NATO troops into Kosovo and required all Serbian military and police forces to withdraw.

Yugoslavia's ruling Socialist Party appealed to Serbs to stay in Kosovo, to "secure the survival of Serbia in this territory."

In Brussels, Belgium, NATO officials said allied peacekeeping troops, now numbering 15,000, are making headway into Kosovo and patrolling parts of the province. But it will be at least a month before the full force of 50,000 is in place, said spokesman Jamie P. Shea.

U.S. and Russian officials meeting in Helsinki, Finland, failed yesterday to agree on a plan for integrating Russian troops into the NATO-led force, but Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said progress had been made, and the talks would resume today.

The pullout of Serbian military units from Kosovo is on schedule and should be completed Sunday, NATO officials said. Of the 41,000 Serbian forces in Kosovo, 26,000 have withdrawn, along with at least half of their tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers. The demilitarization of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army is not going as smoothly, the officials acknowledged.

Yesterday, two KLA rebels were brought into Pec with gunshot wounds, presumably the victims of Serbian snipers. Italy's ANSA news agency reported violent clashes between Serbian paramilitary groups and KLA fighters in Klina, near Pec, where Italian peacekeeping forces are based.

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