Ferocious Serb assault opens with executions

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The Independent Online
AS THEIR houses burnt, terrified Albanians from the little town of Srbica in Kosovo told of the execution of more than 20 Albanians during the first day of a Yugoslav offensive. It began as international ceasefire monitors were evacuated from Kosovo on Saturday morning.

Babies cried and women wept as they described the Serbs' ferocious assault. "They came to our house wearing green uniforms and black masks," Adile Mustafa said. "They shelled our house in the morning, and the door was broken, we couldn't close it. They came in, shouting... you can see for yourself," she continued, gesturing towards thick plumes of smoke rising from houses burning near by.

The Serb soldiers and police could be seen sheltering behind armoured vehicles close to the police station, although most of the fire seemed to be booming out of Srbica, not coming in.

The buses overloaded with refugees and the burning houses evoked sinister echoes of the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and the bloody bouts of "ethnic cleansing" that accompanied it.

"My husband and my sons were taken on Saturday, and we have no news of them," Mrs Mustafa continued, her eyes brimming with tears. "That day, they rounded up about 10 men and took them up the hill, and we heard shooting." Behind her, a bus overloaded with refugees set off for the northern town of Mitrovica. "It's better to kill us than to terrify us like this," she said.

But the Serbs are killing them. Ferad Zenune, 85, said they had seized his 35-year-old son, Mohamet, on Saturday, before ordering the family to leave. "Women, children and older men were pushed out of the house, and younger men were kept inside," he said, weeping. "I went to Srbica yesterday, and I saw a lot of blood in my garden, and a bloodied axe. I am afraid that maybe they killed my son."

Another woman was walking back to Srbica yesterday to find the children and grandchildren she lost in the confusion on Saturday. "I saw with my own eyes that they killed a man," Dinora Shaqiri said. "He was in front of his house, in the doorway. They were wearing white uniforms and black masks, and they asked him for his guns. He said, `I have no weapons', but they still killed him. They shot him with a big rifle, from close by," she said.

"I was on the third floor, and from my window I saw them take about 20 Albanian men, they surrounded them and killed them all," she continued.

Mrs Shaqiri said she also saw two Serbian policemen killed by rebels from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), who were on the hill opposite the main road. And she claimed to have seen the bodies of two men, the sons of Osman Musa, lying on the road outside the police station.

Another woman said that men had been taken to jail in the nearest large town. "My husband was in Mitrovica prison but they let him go and told him to pass the message to Srbica people to go to Mitrovica to collect the bodies. They said Sabit Veliqi is dead, along with some people from Lausha with the surname of Vojvode." We never got her name, since the police moved us along.

Baton Haxhiu, editor of Koha Ditore newspaper, said that he had reports of 16 people killed, including an acquaintance, Sabit Veliqi.

East of the town, a tank sat on a hill close to a burning house, the muzzle-flash visible as it fired towards rebel positions in Drenica, until recently the KLA stronghold. North, the refugee buses and our cars were held up for 30 minutes while a combined police and army force fired across the road into Drenica.

Three policemen strolled out of a house next to the road as smoke billowed out and flames shattered the windows. Before long, flames were surging through the roof and it was time for the convoy to move on.

Back in Srbica, Mrs Mustafa - crying again - said: "The police just came past now and told us to go back to our houses, but how can we return to burnt houses, filled with a lot of smoke?"

She could not have known that about 20 miles to the south, thousands more Albanians were on the move, having fled their homes in the villages around Malisevo during the night, because of heavy fire in the area. Journalists stuck in the town of Glogovac, held by Serbs, on Sunday evening, heard outgoing artillery and rocket fire.

"The children were terrified, when they heard the shooting and shelling they were so frightened they were crying, so we had to leave," said Mohamet, who fled his home near Trpeza village, with his wife, seven children, grandchildren, and his mother, who is paralysed. "We left at 11 o'clock at night, and because of the situation, we drove without lights, in a tractor convoy, along very bad roads."

The family is now camped, with dozens more, in the dilapidated school building in Drenovc village. Their plight indicates that the Serb offensive is moving south. It bodes ill for the thousands of Albanians still living in the rolling hills of southern Drenica. Unless Nato strikes, they will be next.