Witnesses describe climate of terror in Kosovo

Milosevic says Albanians feared NATO bombs

March 03, 2002|By Tom Hundley | Tom Hundley,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE HAGUE - Victim by victim, the prosecution in Slobodan Milosevic's war crimes trial is demonstrating that within hours of the start of NATO's 1999 bombing campaign the Yugoslav government began executing a comprehensive and systematic plan to expel hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.

Milosevic, acting as his own lawyer, is arguing that the 800,000 Albanians who fled their homes after the bombing began March 24, 1999, did so because they were afraid of NATO bombs, not because they were terrorized by Serbian police and paramilitaries.

The initial phase of the trial deals with Kosovo, and a succession of Albanian witnesses has described how Serbian forces created a climate of terror in their villages and cities by beating and killing residents, burning their homes and then ordering everyone to leave. This, the prosecutors contend, could only have happened with "the direction, the encouragement or the support of Slobodan Milosevic."

One of the most chilling pieces of evidence introduced Wednesday was a document found shortly after the war ended in a government office in Kosovska Mitrovica, an ethnically mixed town in northern Kosovo. It was titled "List of Shiptars in Kosovska Mitrovica who must be summarily liquidated."

Shiptar is the derogatory word Serbs use for Albanians. The list contained names of 66 Albanians, many of them well-known figures in the community. It was dated Feb. 19, 1999, and it was signed by a Col. M. Markovic, special unit commander. The list was given to the tribunal by Halit Barani, an Albanian human rights activist in Kosovska Mitrovica whose name was number 21 on the list.

Earlier Wednesday, Besnik Sokoli, 25, an Albanian translator who worked for various international organizations in Kosovo, described how he and his family tried to flee from the Serbs in the western Kosovo city of Pec.

After Serbian forces started shelling their neighborhood on March 25, his family hid with relatives in another part of the city. But three days later, Serbs were in that neighborhood as well, so Sokoli and his family set out on foot for the Montenegro border.

He said they did not get far before they were stopped and turned back to Pec, where Serbian police had already rounded up an estimated 30,000 Albanians and were busy organizing buses and trucks to deport them to Albania.

Sokoli said that while waiting with the others in Pec's main square, he was singled out by police - most likely because of his age and affiliation with international organizations - and taken to a hotel room where he was beaten and abused for five hours before being loaded onto one of the trucks.

Tom Hundley is a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune.

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