War In The Balkans: Villagers saw more than 100 men shot

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The Independent Online
GRIEF MARKED the faces of dozens of women and girls crossing to safety in Albania from the killing grounds of Kosovo yesterday.

Tears flowed freely as children, wives and sisters described the murders of their menfolk by Serbian soldiers. "They wore masks and they killed my brother right in front of me," said 22-year-old Nerxhivana Gerxhaliu. "It is not a long story. They began beating men and shooting others. They formed no lines, they just pulled them out of the tractors and killed them."

More than 100 men are reported to have been dragged from the refugee convoy and shot dead by the roadside between the villages of Upper and Lower Studime, close to the town of Vucitrn in Kosovo. The survivors say the convoy, a couple of thousand people forced from their homes in the villages, was surrounded on Sunday night.

"They killed my husband before my eyes," Sebaate Gerxhaliu said, blank with grief as she sat in a tractor trailer clutching her youngest son. "At first they beat the men with rifle butts, then they killed them. All through the journey I closed my eyes because I did not want to remember the scene." Ten men were taken from Mrs Gerxhaliu's tractor alone, eight of them relatives.

"I managed to touch my son once, to lay my hand on his wound, and my hand came up covered with blood," said another women, Merita, who did not want to be identified further because she must break the news to other children living abroad. "They would not even let us take the bodies. We don't know if anyone bothered to make a grave for them."

Another woman, Lulietta Gerxhaliu, also witnessed the horrific scenes. "We saw many people being killed in front of us - 20 to 30 - and we saw more than 100 bodies," she said.

"They pulled the men from the tractors, asked for DM2,000 [pounds 700] and said that anyone who could not pay would be killed." But even that was not to save Merita's son, as she testified in an entirely separate interview. "I gave them DM2,000 but they still killed him."

Once the killing was done, the troops ordered the villagers to drive to Vucitrn and even then they were screaming and shooting in the air to terrify the survivors, who spent the night corralled at a farm, guarded by armed men and denied food and water. The next morning the Serbs came for the surviving men, removing dozens, perhaps hundreds of men aged 22 to 55 in trucks and then returning, trucks empty, for more. Eventually they ordered the convoy to leave at once for Albania. "We know at least 200 are gone - we are certain of this because we know them all," said Nerxhivana Gerxhaliu, who was riding in a different tractor. It was not a long story - but it was typical of President Slobodan Milosevic's blood feud against Kosovo.