Killings and Scorched Earth in Southern Kosovo
April 20, 1999
HUMAN RIGHT WATCH -- KOSOVO FLASH #28
Over the past ten days, Human Rights Watch researchers in Macedonia independently interviewed more than twenty refugees from villages in the area between Urosevac (Ferizaj in Albanian) and the Macedonian border. The refugees, many of whom were on the move inside Kosovo for more than two weeks, described military style operations against their home villages, including heavy shelling and the use of tanks, followed by the wholesale burning of villages and crops and the deliberate slaughter of livestock. Refugees from several villages also provided consistent accounts of the killing of civilians by Serbian police and paramilitary units, as well as reports that some of the corpses had been mutilated.
In the village of Bajnica (close to Doganovic), eyewitnesses described how tanks entered the village without warning on the morning of April 3, followed by Serbian police and paramilitaries who set fire to houses, shot farm animals and beat residents in the street. Qamil Rhexepi, a sixty-year-old resident of Bajnica, and Demir Sulemani, a forty-eight-year-old man from Brod, were shot by Serbian forces during the operation, witnesses said. One witness saw Rhexepi being shot by masked men in green camouflage uniforms as he tried to flee the village. When the witness and three other men, all interviewed separately by Human Rights Watch, returned to the scene of the shooting later that day, they found the mutilated bodies of Rhexepi and Sulemani. Sulemani's eyes had been removed, and his throat had been cut, they all said. Describing the scene, one of the witnesses said: "the village was destroyed -- it was horrible to see. They just did it so we can't go back."
A refugee from the village of Rakaj told Human Rights Watch that Serbian police had entered the village on April 3, forcing the residents to flee to neighboring Cakaj. The village was subsequently looted and burned, he said. On Tuesday, April 13, Cakaj's inhabitants and those being sheltered there (including persons from nearby Lamaj and Duraj) also fled after Duraj was shelled at around 11:00 a.m. The women, children and elderly, who took refuge in a canyon, were subsequently caught by armed police in masks who told them that they "couldn't leave until they [the police] had burned all the houses."
Three witnesses hiding in the area heard shots after three men (forty-year-old Shiqiri Halili, forty-year-old Jakup Caka, and forty-six-year-old Mahmut Caka) tried to escape from the area around the canyon. After the police left around 3:00 p.m., one witnesses found Halili shot eight times, but still alive. Nearby, the witness said, were the mutilated corpses of Jakup and Mahmut Caka. Halili died later that same day. Four witnesses interviewed by a Human Rights Watch researcher indicated that an additional eight bodies were discovered when the villagers returned to Cakaj, bringing the number of dead to eleven. Those killed included: Rahman Lama, 50; Ibrahim Lama, 20; Habib Lami, 18; Ilir Caka 19; and Qemal and Sabri Saliu, as well as their brother. The village was completely burned, witnesses said, including the bodies of farm animals.
Human Rights Watch representatives also spoke with multiple witnesses from the area who claimed that the police had destroyed the following villages: Slatin, Gabrica, Elezaj, Gatchka, Duraj and Lamaj. Three witnesses from the village of Firaj (on the road between Strpce and Brod) interviewed independently by Human Rights Watch also reported forcible evictions and scorched earth tactics in their area. They described the widespread looting and burning of villages, including Firaj, Brod, Vica, Upper and Lower Bitinja. These interviews indicate a consistent pattern of killings and literal scorched earth tactics by Serbian and Yugoslav forces in the southern region of Kosovo. Most villages along the Macedonian border have been ethnically cleansed and destroyed.
For further information contact:
Fred Abrahams (New York): 1-212-216-1270
Holly Cartner (New York): 1-212-216-1277
Jean-Paul Marthoz (Brussels): 322-736-7838