War In The Balkans: Atrocities - Twenty soldiers, a young wife, and ordeals in the name of war `Soldiers told me to make drinks. Then I was raped'

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"THERE WERE about 20 soldiers and they ordered me to make coffee for all of them, and after that they ordered me to clean the place and to sweep it. I cleaned it all and then they told me to take off my clothes."

Zyrafete Trolli was describing one episode in the three days of humiliation and terror endured by several hundred Kosovo Albanian women held prisoner by the Serbs in the village of Dragacina.

It is with enormous fear and hesitation that these women have broken the traditional taboo that forbids any discussion of sex to repeat their experience at the hands of the Serbian police.

But some women in the refugee camp at Kukes in northern Albania have told the organisation Human Rights Watch, and other aid workers, in some detail of the clinical, mechanical way they were imprisoned and sexually abused.

The ordeal began on 21 April when about 200 women and elderly men from Mujlan, Dujle and Dragacina, three adjacent villages near the town of Suva Reka, were herded by Serbian Interior Ministry police into a field. In accordance with now established practice, the Serbs separated the women from the old men (the younger men having fled) and took the men off to an unknown destination. The women were then locked up in three buildings in Dragacina where the younger, prettier ones were singled out for sexual services, sometimes in the middle of the night.

One woman, aged 29, whose name has been withheld by the organisation, told Human Rights Watch that she was selected from the group and taken off from the main building to a smaller room in a separate building. There she was ordered to take her clothes off. Five members of the security forces stood watching in the room as she undressed, though only one had sex with her. The other four left the room and shouted at her while she was being raped through a walkie-talkie which they had left under the bed.

A second woman who was older and who was not raped said the Serb police came into their compound in the middle of the night and flashed torches into their faces.

When they found the type they wanted they shouted at her, "You come with us." The woman came back to the building two hours later and said to the older woman: "Don't ask me anything."

Other women said they were stripped and forced to serve officers in the nude. One woman, aged 23, said that she was put on a bed with a young Serb soldier, both of them naked, while the commanding officer, dressed in uniform, watched from the corner of the room.

According to the report, the commanding officer was lying with his cap on about 10 feet away from the woman and the soldier. The man touched her breasts but did not force her to touch him. "I just kept crying all the time and pushing his hands away," she told the rights group. "Finally he said to me, `I'm not going to do anything.' The commander just stared at us." In the end this woman was told to put her clothes on and just serve them coffee.

Zyrafete Trolli told journalists: "I was standing naked while the soldiers came in and out of the room to look at me. They stripped me and sprayed me with perfume. I began to cry. They asked me, `Where is your husband?', because they were thinking he was in the mountains with the KLA, but then they saw the phone number I had written and realised he is in Switzerland. They told me, `You must phone your husband and tell him to bring us money.' "

Some rights officials in Kukes suspect that the phrase "making coffee", which many of the women mention, may in fact be a euphemism for far more drastic sexual abuse.

Their suspicions were aroused when a woman refugee, named as Lire Trolli, said she had been forced to "make coffee" at the point of a gun, while being held down by three men.

The problem is that few of the women will talk openly of their ordeal, or perhaps even admit to themselves what has happened. Penelope Lewis of Unicef says that although only three women had told her they were actually raped, when the word went out that Unicef could take them to a gynaecologist, several more asked if they could come. "A lot of women were taken away, but none of them will tell exactly what happened to them," Zyrafete said.

In Bosnia, another society with a large Muslim population, very few women would admit to being raped at the hands of the Serb troops who overran two-thirds of the republic's territory in 1992. But later reports suggested that 30,000 to 50,000 women were sexually abused and many went through thedilemma of deciding whether to give birth to the unwanted children of an alien army.

The sexual abuse of the Kosovo Albanian women ended on 24 April, when they were force-marched off to Dujle, where they were detained in a school building for two days without further molestation.

The women were then taken to the border village of Zur, from where they were ordered to walk across the frontier to Albania. They still wonder about the fate of the 11 elderly men taken by the Serbs. "I saw their jackets by the well," one recalled. "And the Serbs threatened us, saying there was room for more people down the well, so maybe the old men are there."

n The Human Rights Watch report is available on the Internet at www.hrw.org.

MORE THAN 600,000 Kosovo Albanians have fled their homes amid reports of gross human rights abuses. Readers of The Independent have given more than pounds 750,000 in aid but more is still needed.Please send a cheque or postal order payable to Kosovo Appeal to the Disasters Emergency Committee, PO Box 2710, London W1A 5AD. Or call 0990 22 22 33 to make a credit card donation.