Serb forces kill children in Kosovo

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The Independent Online
AS NATO commanders General Wesley Clark and General Klaus Naumann met the Yugoslav President Milosevic yesterday, attempting to persuade him to withdraw his combat troops from Kosovo, Serbian forces repeatedly fired on the funeral party of an 11-year-old ethnic Albanian boy they had been shot dead.

Shemsi Elshani was killed on Saturday afternoon while cutting firewood with his father and cousin in a copse just a few hundred yards from his home. A cousin was also wounded by Serbian troops manning a position with four tanks clearly visible, less than a mile away.

"We could see the checkpoint, but we did not think they were going to shoot. We were not afraid," said Rashit Elshani as his wife, Hasime, led the mourning for their son Shemsi. He was the fourth child to be killed by Yugoslav security forces in three days.

Mr Elshani, a history teacher in Krajkova, had returned to the village with his family a month earlier, but it was his first time out on that particular mountainside. The little group had worked for a couple of hours and then, as they carried logs to a tractor, the shots rang out - two bursts of machine-gun fire.

"I heard my cousin cry, `I'm wounded', and he ran," Mr Elanshi explained. "I was lying down, calling to the boy, Shemsi, but he didn't answer."

Mr Elshani crawled through the bushes for 200 yards and then ran the short distance home, only to find the boy was missing. A cousin, Lirie, 16, decided to return to look for Shemsi, though the others tried to stop her.

"I was so determined. At first I was afraid, but when I saw his jacket I told myself, go on, whatever happens, go on," said Lirie. Close by she found Shemsi face down, with two bullet wounds. Yesterday Lirie was comforting Hasime as she sat weeping before the blood-stained body of her handsome, blond son. "How can such a young boy be killed?" she moaned. "Let me hold him one last time." And then she fainted.

The hideous scene came only 48 hours after another day of sorrow, this time in the village of Grcina. There, members of the Sylmetaj clan had gathered to bury their dead - Ramiz, his sons Muharrem, 5, and Mazzlom, 2, and his niece Leunora, 12.

All four were shot dead as they walked nervously through the darkened woods towards their homes, having returned from seeking refuge across the border in Albania.

Lindita, the 16-year-old sister of Leunora, was one of the 12 survivors. "We heard from the news that the situation had changed, and about the deal between Milosevic and Holbrooke," Lindita explained, her left cheek grazed by a bullet.

"We crossed the border and we thought now we would be safe. We were only 500 metres from our houses. We checked the area, we thought it was secure." But at that moment, a group of soldiers opened fire from close range. Muharrem was hit first, Ramiz next. His wife, Ajshe, was clutching Mazzlom. A bullet ripped into her son's left cheek, killing him instantly and wounding her.

As Lindita told her story, local women in traditional dress, who had gathered for the funeral rites, began to weep. "Then I heard my little sister crying and screaming. When I found her, she was wounded," Lindita continued. "I asked the soldiers if we could take her to hospital. They said no, she has to die here." And Leunora did, a few minutes later.

Back in Krajkova, the Elshanis sought help from American and European monitors with the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission. The grave-diggers had been shot at: Could the observers escort the body and so deter further attacks?

"Even though we have armoured vehicles, if somebody is determined to shoot more people, they won't stop because of us," they replied. In other words, No.

"I am so afraid they will shoot again," Hasime said later as we climbed the grassy hill to an exposed ridge where other Elshanis are buried. Her fears were realised, though not until Shemsi was underground and most mourners had moved back down the hill.

A few shots rang out and then, to underline the message from a Yugoslav position in the valley below, the last whizzed by a couple of metres over our heads.