The World According To...

Boban’s funeral: The death of a Serb soldier

June 1999: After Robert Fisk hears the shots that killed a Serb soldier, he seeks out the family to speak with them about their son Ilija Jelicic (Boban)

Saturday 29 January 2022 21:30
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<p>Ethnic Albanian people flash the victory sign and celebrate in front of a British Nato tank, its gun barrel decorated with flowers, as the first Nato troops are deployed in Kosovo’s capital Pristina, 13 June 1999</p>

Ethnic Albanian people flash the victory sign and celebrate in front of a British Nato tank, its gun barrel decorated with flowers, as the first Nato troops are deployed in Kosovo’s capital Pristina, 13 June 1999

It was one of those moments of history that will always remain in the mind. British armoured vehicles pelted with roses and a crowd of Kosovo Albanians emerging from the darkness of fear and persecution, their faces convulsed by that dangerous joy that can so soon turn to fury. They cried “Nato” and they wrote “Tony Bler” on the main road running through the Pristina suburb of Vranjevac where they had lain in hiding for two months. And when the Serb army drove up the street on its way out of Kosovo – and when the terrified Serb civilians, foot on the accelerator, their cars crammed with wives and children and bedding and kettles and toys, swept through between the Yugoslav army trucks, the Albanians cursed them and threw stones at them.

And that’s when I heard the shots. It was mid-morning on Sunday 13 June; several bursts of automatic fire from up the road where the Irish Guards should already have deployed with their Warrior armoured vehicles – but which they hadn’t yet reached amid the adulation of the crowds. A French reporter drove down the highway and shouted at me: “There’s a lot of shooting up there – someone’s killed a soldier.” Two soldiers, to be exact, and a Serb policeman. We saw the terribly mutilated body of one of them on television that night, a bloody corpse beside a Yugoslav army truck – shot while “looting”, according to the reports on Sky TV.

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