'No court can sentence Milosevic properly. He should burn in Hell'

Jessie Grimond,Kosovo
Saturday 15 February 2014 06:03
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As a strange car drew up at the Gashi family farm in the village of Krushe e Mahde, near Prizren in southern Kosovo, Artan pelted into the house, threw himself spreadeagled on the floor and burst into tears.

The teenager had thought the car would bring news of his missing relatives, victims of Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown against the Serbian province's ethnic Albanian community. But the car carried only journalists who had no answers for him.

On 25 March 1999, when he was 16, all 28 members of his family were sheltering from shellfire in the basement of their farm two days after Nato began its bombing campaign on the province. At nightfall, the danger seemed imminent enough to warrant flight into the nearby hills. But, at dawn, hordes of Serb police seized the relatives and separated the men from the women, shepherding the women into the village mosque.

Artan was lucky – they considered him a child and he was gathered up with the women. From the mosque, they were sent to the next village, then ordered to leave for Albania. The women watched the men being beaten and robbed. Flames were licking their farms before they left.

Artan's father, pleading with the police, four times begged them to release Artan's brother, who was two years older. But neither father nor brother, nor any other of the family's men has been seen since. The family hopes against hope that the six men are still alive.

Among memorials to those whose bodies were found, the village graveyard marks out 84 plots where unidentified bodies are buried, too burnt or mauled to be recognisable. The chances are that Artan's father and brother lie here – though with stories emerging of the Serbs' grave-shuffling and revelations of mass burials in Serbia, there are other possibilities.

Reports of mass graves being found in Serbia have served only to increase the worries of the widows.

Krushe e Madhe is named in Mr Milosevic's indictment by the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which accuses the former president of crimes against humanity in Kosovo. It cites 105 men known to have been killed that day, only two days after Nato began its bombing. A further 100 are still unaccounted for. It is known locally as the village without men.

The indictment says that, after the men were made to walk to an uninhabited house, they were assembled and shot dead by the Serb police. It goes on to say: "After several minutes of gunfire, the police piled hay on the men and boys and set fire to it in order to burn the bodies."

Six-year-old Ermin lounges across the doorstep while his family describes the day his father fell into the hands of Mr Milosevic's campaign. As the family scans a frame containing six portraits – fathers, brothers, sons – the government in Belgrade is preparing to extradite Mr Milosevic to The Hague in line with a decree from his successor that came into force yesterday.

Artan's mother, Nadire Gashi, 40, scoffs at the prospect. "For what he did, all of Serbia should pay. They should burn in flames whether from God or from humans," she says. "No court in the world can sentence Milosevic properly. He should burn in Hell. Look what he has done to us. He has swathed our lives in misery."

Two years ago the family's women had hardly set foot in their four acres of farmland, but with the men gone they now rise at 5am daily to tend it. Last year, half the crop withered and rotted. The family's farming knowledge has been lost with its sons.

"We used to be rich," says Mrs Gashi, scanning a room empty of furniture. "Now look at us." Cheering talk of the next celebration – Artan's wedding, perhaps – falls flat. "But no," she says, "he has an older brother who must marry first." Artan looks set for a long bachelorhood.

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