War in Europe: Eyewitness speaks of Serb death squads in action

HUNDREDS OF thousands of Kosovan Albanians are pouring across the borders into Macedonia, bringing with them tales of unimaginable horror.

They tell of gangs of Serbian thugs, masked and wearing black uniforms, hell bent on destroying the cream of an entire ethnic population. The problem with these stories is that nobody from outside saw the murders. Most of them are unsubstantiated, disjointed, and given by disorientated, exhausted, terrified people.

But not this one. For the first time, I heard a story from a fellow journalist, speaking perfect English, which involved a clear, eyewitness account of a single murder. This is extremely rare in the waves of claims and counter-claims that are sweeping over the crisis in Kosovo.

Valanita Saratini, a Macedonian reporter who worked for years in Pristina for the German state broadcasting system, was close to collapse as she reached Macedonia. Her husband, an archaeology professor at Pristina University, was beyond words. Beside her, their two young children stood swaying with exhaustion. On a roadside in Macedonia, just 200 yards from the border, she gave us the facts.

"His name was Dolji Fijamur," she said. "He was in his mid-twenties and he was the chief reporter of Koha Ditore, Pristina's daily newspaper. He was brave and he wrote the truth of what those pigs were doing.

"Five days ago they broke into the office and demanded the names of everybody. After checking his name they took him outside. I was hiding upstairs and saw them take him down an alleyway behind some hoardings. They pushed him in front of them and shot him, kicked his body, and ran off down the alley.

"I went into hiding with my family in the days that followed, and we moved from one friend's house to another, waiting to get away. But I heard from my colleagues that the Serbs came back to the office and rounded up another five journalists. None have been seen since."

Valanita then gave me a vivid description of what she had seen from the windows of the various rooms in which she hid. She saw lines of tanks, 30 or more, rolling down the streets of the city, sealing off one district after another, as if to some pre-arranged plan.

"They were the usual bunch," she said. "The Arkan types, the macho thugs, the police bully boys, and a few men in plain clothes who drove cars. They moved down street after street, smashing in doors, shouting and frequently firing their machine pistols. The sound of firing went on all the time, night and day.

"I saw some irregulars firing shots into the street from windows, like snipers. But there were few people for them to hit. We got away through the woods outside the city. We had to hide often as we walked the 50 miles south, and we saw columns of tanks and armoured personnel carriers going past. From a distance, the city was in darkness. Still we could hear the firing."

She knows how lucky she was. "I know of at least eight people who disappeared, apart from my journalist colleagues. And I am only one person. I know that there must be hundreds dead. And they were all targeted. These animals had lists. They had been preparing for this day, and it seems they want to destroy the entire intelligentsia, those who are articulate and clever, those who are the educators and the leaders.

"You must write all this down. You must tell the world," she said, and finally broke down into sobs before being led away by her children on the long walk into Skopje, 12 miles to the south. It was her intention, some day, to be a witness at at least one murder trial.

If peace ever comes, the forensic specialists in the field of modern war crimes will have problems both of scale and specifics. How will they identify those responsible for all the crimes against the Albanian Kosovars, who were masked and bore no identification on their uniforms?

The mountain of unsubstantiated witness statements may not be enough to prosecute those who have carried out the atrocities we have heard so much about. This is why the testimony of a single, brave young woman is so important.