Liberation of Kosovo: The student hostel that became a torturers' den

THERE WERE children playing in the sun at Cacak Street yesterday, something they had not done for a long time. Their families stood in huddles at the corner, another sign of normal life returning to Pristina. But the grey building to which they were pointing was a dark, forbidding reminder of the cruelty and barbarity which Kosovo had sunk into.

Down the cold concrete steps that led beneath the former student hostel taken over by the Serb special police, lay the tools of the torturers.

There were knuckle-dusters, clubs, a long evil-looking knife and a baseball bat with an inscription in Cyrillic reading "mouth shutter". All were items used by the Ministry of Interior Police (MUP) to force from their victims whatever supposed secrets they were withholding. The only comparison was with a medieval dungeon.

Elsewhere there was more horror; a bed with twisted leather straps was used to tie down and rape women prisoners - there were gashes in the stained orange mattress, apparently made by screwdrivers and bayonets; there was a rusty hacksaw, the blade of which was stained with what may, or may not, have been blood.

It was not hard to imagine what horror took place in this concrete cellar but if there was any doubt, the local people were quick to add detail. They said that the four-storey building in the centre of Pristina used to be a hostel for high school students. Then the MUP took it over and it became a place of fear which the people in the neighbourhood tried to avoid passing.

They would see van loads of men and women, sometimes teenagers, being taken in. Soon the screaming would start, and at times bodies would be taken out. Very few arrested and taken to Cacak Street came out to tell what went on, and those lucky enough not to visit the place learnt not to ask too many questions.

As investigators for International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague yesterday began to examine evidence inside the building, taken over by Nato, staggering figures of casualties throughout Kosovo began to emerge. British Foreign Office Minister Geoff Hoon stated that more than 10,000 Kosovar Albanians may have been killed in 100 massacres. He said these estimates had been based on reports from refugees and local people, and that the final figure could be far higher.

At Cacak Street, inside the dank, dirty building, there was a clear glimpse of what the men of the MUP had been up to and the horrors their victims had suffered.

Some of the evidence had already been destroyed by the Serbs, as they hurriedly left before handing over the headquarters to Nato - the MUP commander reportedly in jovial mood.

Piles of ashes still smouldered outside yesterday afternoon.

It took the Nato forces 48 hours to ensure the building was free of of booby traps. Only then were the discoveries made. And despite the Serb bonfire there was ample evidence left behind.

The paraphernalia of torture and brutality was scattered throughout the building. The bed was found on the first floor where the MUP men used to sleep in a filthy dormitory strewn with empty bottles of vodka, cigarette packets and packets of condoms. There were hundreds of packets of contraceptives, not just there but seemingly piled up in every room.

Then there were the drugs and the pornography, left lying around at the entrance hall, the offices used for administration, the dormitories and in the cellar. The drugs ranged from cannabis to atropine - medically used for heart conditions but also favoured as a relaxing agent for interrogation in some totalitarian states. Needles were stacked up beside bottles of these. The pornography was a collection of magazines and videos, in garish, tattered packing, much of it devoted to sexual violence towards women, including bondage. In many cases characters were dressed up as the Devil.

Beneath these rooms the steps led to a place of echoing menace.

This was where much of the interrogation was done in low rooms of cracked walls, lit by dull yellow lights. Here there were the piles of clothes of men and women who had been stripped before the abuse began. Here was the barred iron door, the sword and the knuckle-dusters, and bales of cotton wool beside bottles of unlabelled medication.

No one knows how many people died in Cacak Street. It was not meant to be a place of execution, and what killings took place are believed to have been due to the over-zealousness of the torturers rather than anything pre-planned.

According to relations of some of the prisoners, most were taken off to jails in Serbia.

Chillingly, the inmates of this ghastly place - almost 500 went through here - are recorded in piles and piles of documents falling from the desks down to the floor.

In the mug shots some of them look no more than boys, fearful of what is to lie ahead. And there are photos of families, laughing parents holding out babies and children, as well as some which appeared to have been taken during surveillance.

One wonders about the fate of these people. What for instance happened to Zes Shala, a worker for the Mother Theresa Centre, looking serious and straightfaced to the camera; or the wide-eyed young Selin Bashi, a student at Pristina University? Or Malina Berashi, an exceptionally pretty young woman?

One room was filled with the number plates of cars belonging to Kosovar Albanians leaving the province to ensure that they would have great difficulty getting back. Also there were stacks of identity cards, taken for the same purpose.

Neighbours of the MUP headquarters yesterday spoke about things they had seen but had been afraid to talk about. Sadil Rexha, a 42-year-old with three children said: "We know people were killed there. I don't know how many, but there were certainly quite a few. We could hear shouting followed by screaming. You could hear people crying. I told my family not even to look at this place, I thought it was cursed."

A young woman, Blerina Klokoqi, added: "We used to see relations of the prisoners turn up asking for news. It was so sad because you could see them going away not knowing what had happened.

"Sometimes men from entire streets were taken there. We were all afraid of what was going on."

The perpetrators of what went on here have gone. Some as part of the exodus of Yugoslav forces from the southern sector of Kosovo which was completed the midnight before last, but others, it is suspected, have slipped back into the Serbian civilian community. Dozens of blue uniforms of the MUP lay on the floor.

Apart from their taste for violence, the Serbs have left behind taped up calendars of semi-naked women on the walls along with posters of Serbian saints. There are a few crude drawings and a few torn books.

Lieutenant Dave Blakeley, of No. 1 Parachute Regiment played a part in negotiating the handover of the building to Nato. Walking through the rooms he said: "You know, I met the commandant of this place, he was trying to come over as a jovial, fellow-soldier type. We now feel very frustrated that he and his men could get away with what they have done.

"We feel angry. We are paratroopers and it takes a lot to shock us. But this is terrible. I am not being dramatic, this is truly evil."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
Voices
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star