Serb soldiers speak of their shame and nausea at comrades' atrocities

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The Independent Online

War-weary Serb officers have spoken for the first time of sickening atrocities committed by the Yugoslav army in Kosovo during the Nato bombing campaign.

War-weary Serb officers have spoken for the first time of sickening atrocities committed by the Yugoslav army in Kosovo during the Nato bombing campaign.

One field commander admitted he watched in horror as a soldier decapitated a three-year-old boy. Another described how tanks in his unit indiscriminately shelled Albanian villages before paramilitary police moved in and massacred the survivors.

The confessions were made by officers who took part in a survey commissioned by the Army Intelligence Unit in January and February.

They say the internal report gives an insight into the scale of the Kosovo massacres for the first time and they claim to be shocked by the enormity of the crimes. Particularly disturbing are the combined testimonies of field officers, which suggest Yugoslav units were responsible for the deaths of at least 800 Albanians aged under five.

Several officers told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), an independent news agency, the research was aimed at gauging their morale against the backdrop of growing tension between Serbia and Montenegro. The veterans said they were appalled by the prospect of mounting a military campaign against their ethnic cousins. They claimed to have been traumatised by what they had seen in Kosovo and some had taken to drink to block out the memories.

One officer, Drazen, who took part in the Kosovo campaign, said: "I watched with my own eyes as a reservist lined up 30 Albanian women and children against a wall. I thought he just wanted to frighten them but he crouched down behind an anti-aircraft machine-gun and pulled the trigger. The half-inch bullets just tore their bodies apart.

"I'm not willing to accept the collective guilt. I want to see those who committed these atrocities stand trial."

Indeed, for many of the officers, Belgrade's propaganda is wearing thin. The commander of one tank unit was quick to dismiss Serbian claims that the Kosovo campaign was aimed at crushing Albanian separatists. "For the entire time I was in Kosovo, I never saw a single enemy soldier and my unit was never once involved in firing at military targets."

He said state-of-the-art tanks were sent out against defenceless Albanian villages. "The tanks, which cost $2.5m [£1.5m] each, were used to slaughter Albanian children. I am ashamed."

A reconnaissance officer for an engineering brigade said Yugoslav army reservists in Kosovo ran amok while their commanders did little to intervene. "During one ethnic cleansing operation in a village in south-eastern Kosovo, we gave the villagers half-an-hour to leave their homes. They were standing in a long line on the road leading out of the settlement.

"A reservist nicknamed Crni ["Black"] went up to an old man who was holding a child aged around three. He grabbed the toddler from the man's arms and demanded a ransom of 20,000 German marks [£6,000]. The Albanian only had DM5,000. Crni took the child by the hair, pulled out a knife and beheaded it. Soldiers nearby were vomiting in the dust.

"Crni was later declared insane and sent home. But he is still free to walk the streets."

One retired veteran of the wars in Bosnia and Croatia says the Yugoslav army has been responsible for the deaths of countless children over the past decade. "I was trained at the country's top military academies and commanded a crack infantry unit," he said. "Kosovo was the third occasion the army was responsible for the deaths of children."

The British photographer Andrew Testa and a New York Times correspondent, Carlotta Gall, have been banned from Yugoslavia for a year for entering without visas, it was reported in Belgrade yesterday.

Miroslav Filipovic is a correspondent for the IWPR

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