SYSTEMATIC DEPOPULATION IN KOSOVO'S CAPITAL
April 3, 1999
HUMAN RIGHT WATCH -- KOSOVO FLASH #17
(New York, April 3, 1999, 10:00am EST) -- Serbian authorities have been systematically depopulating the Kosovo capital Pristina of its ethnic Albanian population, according to refugees interviewed yesterday by Human Rights Watch. Serbian authorities are using passenger trains to transport thousands of Pristina residents to the Macedonian border.
Testimony from ethnic Albanian refugees collected by Human Rights Watch in Macedonia reveals an undeniable pattern of forced expulsion from the following neighborhoods of Pristina: Vranjevci, Tashlixhe, Dragodan and Dardania. Refugee statements are highly consistent and describe an orchestrated mass expulsion.
Expelled refugees uniformly told Human Rights Watch of police and masked paramilitaries going from door to door to tell ethnic Albanian residents that they must leave at once. In some cases, Albanians were warned that they would be killed if they failed to comply.
Once out of their homes, refugees said, residents were directed by police towards the central railway station in Pristina, although some people were allowed to leave in their private cars. Side roads were blocked by armed police and paramilitaries. Witnesses told of thousands of people gathered at the railway station, with armed police posted around the area. Many people were being herded onto a passenger train headed for the Macedonian border, where slow-moving checkpoints are creating a massive bottleneck of thousands of refugees.
One refugee told Human Rights Watch that he was one of twenty-eight people forced into a train compartment meant for eight passengers. Several refugees also described people being loaded onto buses and trucks at the railway station, which suggests that it is serving as a general collection point for the organized expulsion.
Refugees have witnessed police dragging some people from cars and beating them. Most of those interviewed indicated that police and especially paramilitaries are demanding hard currency for safe passage, as well as stealing jewelry and vehicles outright. Looting of Albanian shops and homes was also reported. None of the refugees interviewed saw anyone shot or killed by the police, although all interviewed refugees reported hearing frequent gunshots and explosions while they were being forced out of the city.
*** This human rights flash is an occasional information bulletin from Human Rights Watch. It will include human rights updates on the situation in Yugoslavia generally and in Kosovo specifically. For further information see the Human Rights Watch website or contact Fred Abrahams at (212) 216-1270 or Abrahaf@hrw.org ***