Grisly proof of massacre found in well

Click to follow
A THIRSTY shepherd who paused at an old stone well, protected by a rusty oil-drum, made a gruesome discovery late on Tuesday night: a body, dressed in a green sweater, doubled over and stuffed into the mouth of the well.

At first light yesterday, Umer Deliu walked out to see if the corpse was, as he feared and expected, one of the last two members of his family still missing after the murders last month of 20 members of the Deliu clan, knifed to death by men in black uniforms. The massacre of men, women and children hiding in the woodsshocked the world and prompted Nato to threaten air strikes against Belgrade.

Umer's suspicions were confirmed as he watched a group of cousins and neighbours release the body of Hajriz Deliu, a 33-year-old farmer, from its awful tomb. The men pulled off the drum and then dismantled the top of the well, stone by stone. Despite the precautionary gas-mask one man wore, there was none of the stench so familiar in this part of the world; Hajriz's body had been preserved by the water since the afternoon of 26 September.

They laid the corpse on a home-made wooden stretcher, covered with a rough grey blanket, so that Gani Halilaj, an Albanian doctor working in the area, could make a cursory examination. He slit open the green sweater and out tumbled an ear of maize and a bag of animal feed.

"It seems his injuries were made by knives," Dr Halilaj said, indicating a cut on the right side of Hajriz's throat.

"I don't know if he was alive or dead at the time, but it's obvious he was put in the well by force." Dr Halilaj then stood up, pulled off his latex gloves and waved the men on.

The stretcher party covered Hajriz's body with the blanket, leaving only the wrinkled skin of his toes exposed, and carried their burden across fields and stream to the small meadow where a cluster of earthen mounds mark the graves of the Deliu family who were killed the same day.

Umer carries a pocket diary in which he has drawn a map of the area, so that he knows exactly where each one is buried,including Hajriz's wife and two daughters. Feriz Deliu, younger brother of the dead man, began to sob as Shaban Shala, a KLA commander in the area, arrived to offer his condolences.

Umer, who had remained stoical throughout, also wept for a few moments. He lost his wife, two children, his mother, a sister-in-law, a brother and a nephew in the massacre.

Miraculously, he found his six-week-old daughter, Dituria, alive under the outflung arm of her dead mother, perhaps 36 hours after the attack.

Several other small children were picked up alive by Serbian police and taken to an old woman's house. The oldest was five. According to Umer, he has said only: "We were afraid of the shelling and the shooting and then, when the men in black uniforms with painted faces came with big knives, we were frightened of them also."

Two relatives remained unaccounted for until today: Hajriz and another cousin, Sherif Delia, who is 63. "We recognised Hajriz's clothes and his jacket," Umer said. "He had a gap in his teeth. Also, I recognised his ears, because they were undamaged." The face of the corpse that came out of the wellwas blackened and distorted.

Feriz and Umer found Hajriz's sandals - brown plastic, covered in dried mud - on a path above the massacre site, at least 10 or 15 minutes' walk from the well.

"We were only looking for him among the trees - we couldn't believe the body could be down here," Umer said.

Feriz had left the fatal area 24 hours before the attack. But, "from that day, I looked for my brother every day, I didn't stop looking", Feriz said, his eyes reddened from tears. He is now living in a refugee camp a few kilometres away. At the burial site, another man scooped foul-smelling water from the grave with a tin can and then, with no words and no special gestures, the body of Hajriz was lowered on to the blanket as Feriz, who has only three living relatives, watched from a distance.

No one wanted to linger since the closest Serb positions are perhaps 1,200m away, over, and the men began to shovel mud into the grave.

"Hajriz was not a KLA member - he was a civilian trying to escape from this repression with his family," Shala said after the burial. "Serbia has one policy, and it's the same against the Albanians - a drastic change in the structure of the population, ethnic cleansing."

As the funeral party trudged back over the hills, through the woods and past the plastic shelter where the family was caught by the men with the big knives, we could hear the sound of explosions a few miles away.

Another Balkan ceasefire, another family destroyed.