Amid the burning wreckage and smashed Albanian shopfronts of the Kosovo capital, Pristina, Serbian police and other death squads were reported yesterday to be going from house to house on a mission to systematically murder the intelligentsia in Kosovo.
Direct reports from what is turning into a city of death were hard to substantiate, now that the Yugoslav authorities have expelled virtually all foreigners from the province.
But the diminishing number of reports reaching the outside world by e- mail and by the few telephone lines still working from the city point to the planned extermination of all articulate community leaders.
One of the many victims Nato confirmed yesterday was Fehmi Agani. This was no "separatist terrorist", as the regime calls the members of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army. Mr Agani was a member of the Kosovar delegation at the recent Rambouillet peace talks in France.
He was a close colleague of Ibrahim Rugova, leader of a civilian party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). Like him, he was a convinced advocate of passive resistance to Serb rule, though he would often ruefully joke that applying Gandhian tactics with the Serbs was a tough job.
He was an old man, usually smiling, with a oiled and crinkly white hair and a weatherbeaten, peasantlike face. He was a familiar sight to any foreign journalist attending the briefings at Mr Rugova's ramshackle office in the days after Slobodan Milosevic scrapped Kosovo's autonomy in 1989. I met him many times.
It is incredible to think of men of the stamp of Agani and Rugova, bookish types in their scarves and threadbare cravats and their endless cigarettes, being dragged out of their homes and murdered by the police. But that is what is happening all across Kosovo.
Nato clearly believes what the Kosovars are telling them about the awful events in Pristina. A message from the city, from the Kosovo Press Agency, listed yesterday's known death toll without elaboration.
"Fehmi Agani, vice-president of the Democratic League of Kosovo. Executed in Pristina by the Serbian police.
"Alush Gashi, adviser to Ibrahim Rugova, and a well-known human rights activist. Executed by the Serbian police in Pristina.
"Din Mehmeti, prominent Albanian poet. Executed by the Serbian police in Pristina.
"The Albanian intelligentsia is being murdered in the capital of Kosovo by the Serbian police," the report concluded.
"The Serbian police are executing prominent intellectuals in Pristina. They are going from door to door, rounding them up and murdering them one by one."
The editor of the main Kosovo newspaper, Koha Ditore, Baton Haxiu, was also executed yesterday, Kosovar sources said. His newspaper had been a young, vital operation, everyone's fantasy of what a newspaper ought to be like, all shouting, doors banging and phones ringing. Now it is a bullet-ridden, silent place and the editor is reported to be dead.
The question is whether Mr Haxiu's team of young journalists have all met the same fate.
At a Nato briefing, Air Commodore David Wilby said Mr Agani was murdered after attending the funeral in Pristina of a prominent human rights lawyer, Bajram Kelmendi. Mr Kelmendi was executed by the police, along with his 16-year-old son - youth is clearly no excuse for the Serbian authorities - last Wednesday. The bodies were found in the street.
Old Mr Agani had braved the fearsomely dangerous streets of Pristina to pay his respects to his old comrade. After that he made the mistake of returning with his family to their home.
He and his family had been in hiding for several days. But like many people in such situations, they succumbed to a fatal curiosity to check that things were safe. They were not. The Serbian police were waiting for Mr Agani, and are reported to have executed him along with his entire family.
The fate of the other members of the Rambouillet delegation, and of Mr Rugova himself, was uncertain yesterday. There were unconfirmed reports that Mr Rugova may have been killed, though this may have been Serbian disinformation.
The International Crisis Group (ICG), which monitors events in former Yugoslavia, said Mr Rugova was in hiding, along with Veton Surroi, one of the signatories of the Rambouillet peace deal. As a highly articulate English-speaker and former editor of the broadsheet Albanian-language newspaper Rilindja, Mr Surroi will certainly loom large on the terrifying "wanted list" held by the Serbian police and their accomplices among the local population.
Other writers and intellectuals in hiding are Menduh Thaci, also of Koha Ditore, and Dukadjin Gorani, of the newspaper's English-language sibling, KD Times.
Reports said journalists, writers and intellectuals captured by the police in the western cities of Pec and Djakovica had "disappeared" in the same way.
The extermination of Kosovo's intellectuals echoes events in the genocide in Rwanda, or even the earlier slaughter in Cambodia, where wearing glasses and having a posh voice was enough to ensure a bullet in the head.
But there are comparisons closer to Kosovo, particularly with the Bosnian war of 1992-5. There, too, the world was befuddled and confused by the reports filtering out of the east of the country in the spring of 1992, which told of Serbs going from house to house with lists that had clearly been drawn up months before by the SDS, Mr Milosevic's party in Bosnia.
The lists contained schoolteachers, members of non-Serbian parties, Muslim and Catholic clergymen, and anyone else who might conceivably have been considered an opinion-former and therefore dangerous to the Serb nationalists. Those on them were executed on the spot.
In Bosnia, too, much of this dirty work fell to civilians, to once-friendly neighbours who suddenly changed almost overnight into eager killers of their former friends.
But in Bosnia, many people could escape to the capital city, Sarajevo, which, though bombed and besieged, never fell to the Bosnian Serb army. And beyond Sarajevo lay the one-third of Bosnia that remained under the control of the Bosnian government.
The worry is that in Kosovo tonight there may be nowhere to hide.Reuse content