EYEWITNESSES CONFIRM KILLINGS AROUND VELIKA KRUSA, KOSOVO
Clear Policy of "Ethnic Cleansing"
April 2, 1999
HUMAN RIGHT WATCH -- KOSOVO FLASH #14
(New York, April 2, 1999) -- Serbian security forces killed at least fifteen Kosovar Albanians on the main road between Pec and Prizren over the past weekend, Human Rights Watch confirmed today.
In separate interviews conducted on March 30 and 31 in Albania, three ethnic Albanian refugees told Human Rights Watch that they had seen at least fifteen ethnic Albanians killed on the Pec-Prizren road around the village of Velika Krusa (Krusha e Madhe in Albanian). Their accounts match two separate accounts provided by The New York Times and a local Albanian human rights group.
According to all of the refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the killings took place near a police and army checkpoint on the main road between the villages of Zrce and Velika Krusa. The convoy of refugees expelled by police from Pec last Sunday was stopped there, they said.
One witness from Pec, B. T., said that he was forced from his home by the police on Sunday and put on a bus that drove toward the Albanian border as part of a larger convoy. The bus was stopped at the Zrce checkpoint, he said, where soldiers pulled between ten and fifteen men off the bus, took them aside, and shot them. He told Human Rights Watch:
We left Pec at 11:00 in the morning. At the village of Zrce, the
convoy stopped on the main road. There were 50 buses and
trucks. It was about 1:30. The village is between Dakovica and
Prizren. There were about 100 of us on the bus, packed in. There
were soldiers on the sides of the road, and armored personnel
carriers parked all around as well. Some of the soldiers started
pointing at people: "You, you, and you -- get off the bus." They
took them about ten to fifteen meters away, out of sight. We
heard shooting. They were all young boys... When we drove
past, I saw blood on the road. There were soldiers all around.
Another witness named N.L. was expelled by police from his home in the
Dardania neighborhood of Pec on Sunday morning. The police demanded money
from residents, he said, and confiscated many items, including his car.
The police forced him and his family onto a bus that drove toward Prizren
and then the Albanian border. He told Human Rights Watch:
When our bus came to an area near Krushe e Madhe, I saw dead
bodies on the road. There were about 15 bodies, men of all ages.
There were police standing all around. Next to them was a group
of about 200 men, and further up the road, a group of about 200
women. One of the men managed to get on our bus, and he said
the bodies were of men who had been killed by the Serbs, who
were selecting out people -- "You, you, you" -- and then shooting them.
Another refugee, R.R. from Celina village, said he was part of a larger
group that was on a forced march during the period between Saturday night
and Sunday morning from his village to the main Pec/Prizren road, just
below Velika Krusa. He told Human Rights Watch:
They kept saying they were going to kill us, that they were
looking for a good place to kill us. They said: "Where is your
America now? Where is NATO? Why doesn't London or
Germany come to protect you?"
When we got to the main road they separated some of the men.
The buses from Pec were passing by and they could see this. We
were on the road from Pec to Prizren near the train tracks. It was
near Velika Krusa... The trucks came to take us. As we were
getting on they took two people away and killed them. One of
them was Vefair Rexhepi from Celina. He was a mute and
couldn't say anything when they asked him to speak Serbian, so
they shot him. The other man was Nait Kabashi from Obterusha.
I saw this.
An article in the March 31 edition of The New York Times ("Kosovars Flee to Beat Serb Deadline of Death") cited a fifty-five-year-old woman, Naxhije Zymi, as having seen a mass killing in Mala Krusa (Krushe e Vogel in Albanian) on Friday. The article said that her claims "conformed with other accounts given by refugees" and with accounts heard by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The Albanian Human Rights Group, an Albanian non-governmental organization, also interviewed refugees who spoke of killings at Velika Krusa (See the Albanian Human Rights Groups publication, "The Situation of Refugees from Kosova," Report #1, March 29, 1999). Members of the Gega family from Pec told the group that they were expelled from their home by the Serbian police, who then shot and killed two of the sons, Gjelal (35) and Arbnor (31). On the road to Prizren at Velika Krusa, they reported seeing seven or eight bodies, all of them men.
Given the consistency of the accounts from individual witnesses, Human Rights Watch believes that at least fifteen persons were killed in the Velika Krusa area. Other human rights organizations, as well as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, are called upon to identify other witnesses and to search for further evidence regarding the incident.
Other witnesses told Human Rights Watch of individual killings in the Pec-Prizren area that they had witnessed, but Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm these allegations. It appears that sporadic killings have taken place, with the purpose to intimidate the ethnic Albanian population
into leaving Kosovo. Rumors of atrocities appear to have been highly effective in spurring people to leave quickly, and with relatively little resistance. All of the refugees interviewed were terrified and traumatized, and believed the Serb threats that they would have been killed had they stayed behind.
In general, the murders seem to be aimed either at intimidating the population into fleeing and staying in disciplined refugee columns, or into quickly giving up their possessions and money. Looting and robberies were widespread. Many refugees told Human Rights Watch that the police or army demanded money or goods in return for their lives.
Interviews reveal that green-uniformed troops were heavily involved in the actions between Pec and Prizren, if not entirely in charge of the actions. This apparent involvement of the Yugoslav Army marks a departure from events in Bosnia and Croatia, where most war crimes were committed by Serbian paramilitaries. It is also possible, however, that paramilitary units have been wearing army uniforms. Human Rights Watch has confirmed earlier incidents in which paramilitary units operating in Kosovo wore police or army uniforms.
Kosovo Human Rights Flash is an information bulletin from Human Rights Watch. It includes human rights updates on the situation in Yugoslavia generally and in Kosovo specifically. For further information contact Fred Abrahams at (212) 216-1270.