VIOLENT ETHNIC CLEANSING IN DAKOVICA
April 3, 1999
HUMAN RIGHT WATCH -- KOSOVO FLASH #16
(New York, April 3, 1999, 10:00am EST) -- Evidence began mounting Friday, April 2, that a violent form of ethnic cleansing is in its final stages in Dakovica (Gjakove in Albanian), an Albanian-majority city with approximately 100,000 inhabitants on the road between Pec and Prizren. In a marked departure from the forced depopulations that have taken place over the last week in large cities such as Pristina, Pec and Prizren, Dakovica appears to have experienced violence above and beyond the forced depopulation techniques described in other locales (See Human Rights Watch Flash #9).
Dozens of witnesses from Dakovica interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Krume, a small town north of Kukes, Albania, said that Yugoslav forces have been gradually destroying homes and neighborhoods in Dakovica since March 24. The pace of destruction picked up dramatically yesterday, April 1, with large-scale destruction of homes. Today, thousands of refugees flowed into Krume from Dakovica, saying that the town had been largely emptied overnight.
Unlike the urban forced depopulations in Pec and Prizren studied by Human Rights Watch in recent days, the Dakovica refugees recalled seeing large numbers of corpses lying in the city streets. Refugees spoke of clusters of corpses numbering one to six in each cluster. In addition, the refugees from Dakovica all reported that large numbers of families had suffered at least one execution in their homes. The testimonies given by Dakovica refugees strongly suggest that the level of violence experienced in that town is higher than in other Kosovo urban centers.
In addition, refugees spoke of their homes being bulldozed by Yugoslav tanks or destroyed by security force mortar fire in a gradual, neighborhood-by-neighborhood destruction that began on March 24. In these incidents, residents were typically ordered out of their homes and then, within minutes, troops wearing green or blue camouflage opened fire on their residences. The residents were then ordered to walk to the Albanian border at Qafe Prushit.
Six thousand refugees appeared in Krume during the day of April 2, andUNHCR sources reported that another 10,000 arrived late at night on April 2, after having walked for twenty-four hours or more to the Albanian border. The physical conditions they face are particularly acute, given Krume's remote location and the lack of any international humanitarian presence in the town.
Many of the Dakovica refugees arrived without men aged between twenty and fifty. According to the refugees, many of the men had fled in the previous days to the mountains out of fear of police retaliation. In some cases, women searching for food in town were ordered to leave Dakovica immediately, without time to link up with their husbands or children.
Human Rights Watch is particularly worried about areas such as Dakovica where the men have been left behind. In many of the forced depopulations documented by Human Rights Watch since the NATO bombing began, the men exited Kosovo together with their families. In some areas -- namely Dakovica and Malisevo -- the men have either been forcibly separated or have autonomously taken to the hills to avoid capture. In some past instances, Serbian and Yugoslav forces have executed ethnic Albanian men of fighting age (for example in the village of Golubovac on September 26.) (See the Human Rights Watch report A Week of Terror in Drenica).