Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Serbs murdered by the hundred since `liberation'

  • @indyvoices
THE POSTWAR "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo's Serbs appears to be nearing completion as armed Albanians continue to murder and kidnap the tiny minority of Serbs who remain in the province more than five months after Nato troops arrived - in the words of their UN mandate - "to ensure public safety and order"

Of Pristina's 40,000 Serb population, only 400 are left. Statistics from the Serb church and a human rights group in Pristina suggest as many as 316 Serbs have been murdered and 455 more kidnapped, many of them killed, since Nato's arrival.

If these figures bear any relation to reality - and most are accompanied by names and dates - then the number of Serbs killed in the five months since the war comes close to that of Albanians murdered by Serbs in the five months before Nato began its bombardment in March.

Most Serb victims died in the first two months after Nato's entry, but house-burning and murder continues. One of the most recent deaths was that of a Serb restaurant worker employed - by a supreme irony - at the Pristina office of the International War Crimes Tribunal. The murder of Radovan Kukalj in his home town of Obilic on 29 October went almost unreported outside Kosovo.

Statistics compiled by the Nato-led K-For in Kosovo appear to be woefully inaccurate. They give the number of Serbs murdered since mid-June as only 125, despite detailed lists from the Serb Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren that include at least 184 named Serbs as murder victims, and a further 104 kidnapped between 13 June and 22 August alone.

Files at the Serbian-administered "Centre for Peace and Tolerance' in Pristina - which includes Albanian victims in its statistics - say that at least 48 Albanians as well as 455 Serbs have been kidnapped since mid-June.

But even if the true figure was closer to K-For's statistic, not one of the brutal Serb killings is being investigated by members of the International War Crimes Tribunal working in Kosovo, not even the death of their own restaurant worker, Mr Kukalj.

For while tribunal investigators still hope to bring charges against the murderers of Albanians killed before the war, they are prevented by the tribunal's mandate from any detective work on the postwar murder of Serbs.

The mandate states that it can investigate crimes committed "during the armed conflict in Kosovo". But since neither Nato nor K-For will admit that a conflict continues under their control in Kosovo, albeit a largely one-sided one in which the Serbs are the principal victims, war crimes tribunal officials cannot investigate the killing of Serbs. This means their murderers have only the largely impotent UN police force to reckon with. No wonder, then, that minority groups continue to flee Kosovo.

The 300-strong Croat community at Lecnice were preparing to celebrate their 700th anniversary in the province but left en masse last month for Dubrovnik. And this week, the president of the tiny Jewish community in Pristina, Cedra Prlincevic, left for Belgrade after denouncing "a pogrom against the non-Albanian population". He had left Kosovo, he said, "with only the Talmud".

Foreign aid workers in Kosovo insist K-For is now making a huge effort to protect minorities after Nato General Sir Michael Jackson's defeatist response to the killings - "we can only do so much," he said several times - appeared to encourage the killers.

"There are large numbers of Royal Irish Rangers in the Gjilane and Stimle areas trying to defend the small number of Serbs there," a European human rights worker said. "Just east of Pec, Serbs are returning from Montenegro at the rate of 40 a week and K-For is putting enormous resources in to re-establish them."

Swedish troops have virtually surrounded the Serb monastery town of Gracanica, even ordering Albanians to strip Kosovo independence posters from their cars if they are driving in the Serb streets.

But the same aid official, who spends much of his time on emergency work in Pristina, admitted: "Every single Serbian here has been intimidated - verbally in the street, on the telephone, physically ..."

A few hours later, I was confronted by a 64-year old Serb woman, Milunka Josic, who had just spent the night trying to keep Albanian youths from breaking down her front door. Her right hand was covered in bruises. "I know the young men who were shouting at me," she said. "They were beating on the door and screaming, `**** your mother' and, 'Go back to Serbia'."

In efforts to minimise the "ethnic cleansing" of the Serbs of Kosovo, K-For has even produced graphs which compare the province favourably to cities which include Pretoria and Moscow, a meaningless performance since these are among the crime capitals of the world. But human rights teams of the OSCE, who work with the UN police force, say they are investigating "an increasing number of murders, attacks and harassment of elderly Serbs".

An OSCE official reports that in Zupa, a 96-year-old Serb man was found bound and gagged with a gunshot wound to the head. He had been gathering food for a small community of Serbs who were too frightened to visit the local Albanian-run grocery store. In Kamenica, an 82-year-old Serb woman - who had been threatened and ordered to move from her house, was found burnt to death in her home.

Earlier, Serbs reported that a 90-year old woman, Ljubica Vujovic, had been held down in her bathtub and drowned. Elderly Kosovo Albanians also complain that Albanian families burnt out of their original homes by Serbs are trying to evict them. Witnesses, say the OSCE, are too fearful to help the UN and K-For investigate these crimes.

Amid this anarchy, the question has to be asked: can the shameful campaign of "ethnic cleansing" and murder of Serbs that continues under K-For's eyes still be explained away as revenge attacks, as retaliation for the mass atrocities committed against Albanians by Serb forces before and during the Kosovo war?

A growing number of Albanian intellectuals, including several courageous journalists on the daily Koha Ditore newspaper, fear that the murders and dispossession of Serbs are now being organised. By who? By KLA cells that never disbanded under K-For orders? By groups coming across the border from Albania?

Serbs, of course, still remember a British minister saying during the Kosovo war that he wanted "Serbs out, Nato in, refugees back". George Robertson, as Secretary of State for Defence, later claimed this was merely a "distillation" of the G8 demands.

But "Serbs Out" has almost been accomplished. Mr Robertson is now head of Nato.