Belgrade's link to massacre

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The Independent Online
TWO WEEKS to the day since 45 Kosovo Albanians were mowed down in the southern village of Racak, evidence is emerging piece by piece about who killed them - evidence that may finally persuade Nato to unleash its bombers on Serbia.

The assumption of those who saw the bodies strewn over the hillside above the village, including William Walker, head of the international ceasefire monitors in Kosovo, was the obvious one: they had died at the hands of the Serbian security forces who had sealed off Racak on 15 January and gone from house to house, separating the men from their families.

Survivors told of being taken to the hilltop by men in black balaclavas and told to run before the troops opened fire. Others who were hiding nearby said they heard the screams of people under torture.

But still more devastating testimony is now coming from the other side of the world, in the form of Western communications intercepts, leaked to The Washington Post. According to the newspaper, these show that the massacre was ordered by senior members of the Serbian government, who then tried to cover it up.

Belgrade has denounced the report as CIA propaganda, but the intercepts paint a detailed picture. Government forces were ordered to "go in heavy" at Racak after an ambush that killed three policemen a few days earlier. A deputy prime minister, Nikola Sainovic, the most senior government figure with responsibility for Kosovo, spoke to General Sreten Lukic of the Interior Ministry special forces during the assault and asked how many had been killed (22 at that moment, he was told); in ensuing days the two spoke several times about how to make the killings look as though they had happened in battle.

The Washington Post says this plan was co-ordinated in a telephone call between General Lukic and Mr Sainovic. The minister also advised the general to go back into Racak and recover the bodies. Forty were seized the following day and transferred to the morgue at Pristina hospital.

For the past two weeks the Serbian authorities have continued almost every day to dispute allegations about what happened at Racak, aware that it could be the trigger to Nato military action against them.

Yesterday it was the turn of Vajislav Seselj, a radical Serbian nationalist recently brought into the government as a deputy prime minister. All the "terrorists" in Kosovo, he said, were under the control of America, which armed, directed and financed the Kosovo Liberation Army, he said. Mr Seselj accused the guerrillas of "butchering dead people", leaving open the question of who had killed them.

A team of Finnish pathologists was admitted to Kosovo several days after the killings to take part in the autopsies at Pristina hospital, but earlier this week their spokeswoman, Helena Ranta, dampened hopes that they would come up with conclusive proof of how the villagers had been killed, and by whom. There was evidence that the bodies had been tampered with before their arrival, she said, so the truth might never be known.