How Serbs made a village vanish

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE SERBS made sure they removed the dead and wounded before they let the outside world see Prekaz, the village in Kosovo that they had bombarded for three days. But the evidence of destruction was all too evident: houses peppered with bullet marks and what looked like shell holes, whole walls ripped down, doorways and roofs blasted to pieces and reduced to black, smouldering wrecks.

Such was the result of the "anti-terrorist" operation to flush armed Albanian separatists out of one of the most militant ethnic Albanian villages in this southern Serbian province. The target of the onslaught was the Jashari family, the clan whose houses dotted around Prekaz have come under police attack repeatedly since 1991 and whose members are suspected of masterminding the murders of Serb policemen and their Albanian informers.

According to the police, 26 members of the Jashari family are now dead, including their commander, Adem. The police minimised the ferocity of their onslaught, unconvincingly blaming the gaping holes in roofs on grenades left by the "terrorists" inside the houses. Even the Serbs admit that the violence went further than the few members of the family on the run from the law. "There were some women who refused to leave their houses who were killed," admitted Veliko Odalovic, Kosovo's deputy governor.

Albanian sources put the death toll in Prekaz at 80 or higher. Terrified women and children fleeing the village on tractors reported that houses were firebombed to force them out, and that any men over the age of 15 whom the Serbs caught were executed. Some fled into the woods, where they were tracked by police snipers. None of those reported missing has been seen.

Prekaz yesterday was a ghost village. Only a stray calf and a clutch of black roosters showed any signs of life. The road was strewn with automatic weapon cartridges; all cars and tractors had vanished. The road in was dotted with police jeeps and snipers lying under trees or on the crests of hills. At the entrance to the village was a makeshift command post with sandbags piled high on either side.

Mr Odalovic said the anti-terrorist operation in Prekaz and nearby villages, which began on Thursday, had ended. He gave no indication when the thousands of refugees might be able to return to their homes. Albanian sources suggested that police snipers were still besieging at least four villages.

Ministers from the six-nation Contact Group, comprising the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia are holding emergency talks in London today to try to resolve the crisis. Amid fears of another savage Balkan war, Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, is expected to push for measures including the enlargement of the UN peace-keeping force in neighbouring Macedonia. In Bonn, the German foreign minister, Klaus Kinkel, said the world could not afford "another awful conflagration in Europe".

Kosovo reports, page 11