Video reveals massacre

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BEFORE THE war, Melaim Bellanica took wedding videos for fun, but last week he risked his life to document the massacre of 26 men from his village by Serbian forces who expelled the rest of the population during the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.

Many of the thousands of refugees who have crossed into Albania from Kosovo in the past week have brought horrifying tales of mayhem and murder. But Mr Bellanica is the first Kosovar to bring actual proof of the killings.

In his video tape one man lies over the body of another, both are wearing civilian clothes. Another lies crumpled on the ground, his brains blown out. A face stares up in anguish, the body charred by fire. All the victims are youngish men and none are in uniform. No weapons are in sight. And although the few minutes of video (time coded 1/4/99) do not show the surroundings, the film appears to corroborate Mr Bellanica's story of mass murder in the village of Velika Krusa.

"On Wednesday the police came and blocked the whole village off," Mr Bellanica said. "Most villagers ran away when they first surrounded us, because they let people go and and then, those who stay, they kill them." Some residents ignored the call and stayed. "They didn't believe the police would come into the village and kill people," Mr Bellanica explained, but it was a fatal error. "When the police came into the village, they caught them. When they saw these young guys, they shouted `Stop!' And when the men did, they started executing them, shooting them one by one. One man was shot in the neck, one had his brains blown out ... the usual thing."

For three days, Mr Bellanica said, the police maintained a 24-hour presence in the village, looting possessions and burning houses. Then Serb civilians came from surrounding areas to join in. And all the while, for five days, Mr Bellanica stayed hidden in a basement, as his house was destroyed above him. "I had three old neighbours, and they were burnt to death," he said. "One was paralysed, one was deaf and the other was sick. Old men, three brothers."

After five days, the Serbs left the village and Mr Bellanica and his cousin ventured out. "We were the only ones, so we called some of the others to bury the bodies we saw. And at the same time, I was filming. We only managed to bury six of the bodies, because after half-an-hour the police came back, so we ran away. I don't know what happened to the other bodies."

The villagers listed the names of the 26 victims and Mr Bellanica prepared for the long trek to safety in Albania. His wife and three children had left Kosovo a week earlier and are safe in Tirana, but Mr Bellanica drove out on a tractor with his mother, sister and other relatives. "I hid the video tape in the chassis of the trailer and then I left the others and walked to the border," he explained, "because I was afraid that if I was there, the police would search the tractor. But they were only women and children, and they passed safely."

He waited at the crossing for 18 hours, until his relatives arrived, then made his way to Kukes. There he contacted the BBC, handed over his tape and ensured history would record the fate of Velika Krusa. No doubt the Serb apologists appearing on television each day will put some new construct on the shootings, but as with the Racak massacre of 45 men, these corpses are clearly unarmed civilians shot in cold blood.

"I did all this because even if all this population is killed, one person will survive," he said. "And they will see this film and see what the Serbian people did to the Albanians. That's why I did this."