War in the Balkans: Massacres - Mass killings multiply as Serbs respond to attacks

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The Independent Online
THE LATEST massacre by Serbian forces, at Meja, near Djakovica, is the culmination of a campaign of systematic killings that started sporadically last year and accelerated dramatically after air strikes began in March. Now it seems to be gathering speed again. Perhaps it is a mark of desperation, as Serbia's industrial and military power crumbles underNato's massive firepower.

Mass killings have been a consistent feature of Slobodan Milosevic's wars in the 1990s, in Croatia, Bosnia, and now in Kosovo. In the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar in November 1991 the Yugoslav army, under the command of Colonel Veselin Sljivancanin, killed more than 200 hospital patients when they captured the town, burying the bodies in the nearby village of Ovcara.

That killing paled beside the worst slaughter of the Bosnian war, when General Ratko Mladic, commander of the Bosnian Serb army, ordered the extermination of the male population of the town of Srebrenica in July 1995 after its capture by the Serbs. At least 5,000 Srebrenica men are still "missing", presumed dead and buried in various ravines and shafts in eastern Bosnia.

Kosovo's descent into a slaughterhouse began with mass killings in the villages of Racak and Prekaz. Originally seen as a device to punish the Kosovo Liberation Army and terrorise the civilian population into flight, the killings now seem to have a momentum of their own that expresses the fury of the Serb forces at the prospect of their defeat.

The worst massacres in Croatia and Bosnia were once described as the work of rogue elements or paramilitary groups under the control of berserk warriors. This enabled President Milosevic to claim he bore no personal responsibility for the bloodshed, and that he was a steadying influence.

But the Serb campaign in Kosovo is waged almost exclusively by the regular army and the MUP, the Ministry of Interior Police who act as Mr Milosevic's praetorian guard and answer to him alone. Clearly, Nato's threats to bring perpetrators of mass killings to a war crimes tribunal have fallen on deaf ears.

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