YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT FORCES SYSTEMATICALLY EXPEL ETHNIC ALBANIANS FROM KOSOVO
March 30, 1999
HUMAN RIGHT WATCH -- KOSOVO FLASH #9
Refugees reported to Human Rights Watch researchers today that Serbian special police and Yugoslav military units are systematically expelling ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, including the cities of Pec and Prizren, in a well-orchestrated and centrally organized campaign to rid the region of the majority of its population. The stories of refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch staff in Albania and Macedonia revealed a consistent pattern in the conduct of the expulsions and their timing, underscoring the fact that the Yugoslav government evidently made a decision over the weekend to "cleanse" the region of ethnic Albanians.
Scores of refugees interviewed today described their expulsion from their homes by Serbian forces. Refugees from the major Kosovo cities of Pec (population approximately 100,000) and Prizren (population approximately 80,000) reported that there was widespread shooting in and around the cities from Thursday, March 25 to Saturday, March 27, during which time many shops were burned or bombed. Starting either on Saturday or Sunday, refugees reported that their homes were raided by Serbian special police and/or Yugoslav Army units who moved from neighborhood to neighborhood, ordering people to leave their homes and forcing them into columns that were then accompanied to the border. Refugees repeatedly told how soldiers and police threatened that anyone who did not leave within four hours would be killed.
Those who carried out the raids were either Serbian special police dressed in blue camouflage uniforms with either black ski masks or black grease paint on their faces or Yugoslav Army units dressed in green uniforms with either red or white bandanas. One person interviewed by Human Rights Watch also described Serbs in civilian clothes and another spoke of Serbs in all-black who participated in the raids.
All ethnic Albanian residents of Pec, a city in western Kosovo, reported that they were forced to gather in the central square where local trucks and private buses had been commandeered by the police to transport them out of the city. None of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch were allowed to take their own vehicles. It appears that a large convoy departed Pec at approximately 11 a.m. accompanied by Yugoslav forces who then stopped them about one hour from the border with Albania and forced them to walk the rest of the way.
Several of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that individuals had been pulled out of the convoy and killed, and one person interviewed reported that soldiers stopped the bus he was on and took between 10 and 15 men off the bus. He reported having subsequently heard shooting, but had not actually seen anyone shot. He added, "As we drove past, I saw blood on the road." Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm these reports or find individuals who had been eyewitnesses to the reported killings.
Similarly, refugees who were forced to flee the town of Prizren, in southwestern Kosovo, reported that they were rounded up on Sunday morning and forced to leave their homes. In contrast to the expulsion in Pec, no vehicles were provided to transport the residents from the town. Instead, they departed in their own cars, tractors, or on foot to the Albanian border.
Those interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that both cities were almost completely emptied during the raids, although some handicapped and elderly Albanians were reportedly left behind in Pec. Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about their safety.
For the past year, the Yugoslav authorities have often targetted ethnic Albanian villages which they claimed were harboring the Kosovo Liberation Army. However, the expulsions reported in Pec and Prizren mark the first time that major cities in Kosovo have been targeted with what appears to be the sole motive of "ethnically cleansing" the region.
*** 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 contact Fred Abrahams at (212) 216-1270 or Abrahaf@hrw.org.
This and other information is also available on our website: http://www.hrw.org
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