Letter to the Yugoslav Army General Staff

By Natasha Kandic
Humanitarian Law Center Executive Director

Belgrade, 21 August 2000

Natasha Kandic is one of very few Serb civilians who went into Kosovo during the NATO intervention to see what the Serb forces were doing there. Now she's being threatened with prosecution by the Serbian courts for talking about it, and this is her response, published in Danas.

I Do Not Want to Remain Silent Over the Horrors

Sirs,

On 17 August last, the Belgrade daily Danas in its Letters to the Editor section carries a letter from your Information Office under the heading "Ms Kandic Prejudges with Serious and Unproven Accusations". The letter is in response to my interview by Bojan Toncic carried by the same paper and purports to set out what I said, what I left unsaid, and what I actually meant in that interview. I consider it fitting to address my letter directly to you, both as the institutional and presumable authors of the letter published by Danas.

You state in your letter that I put forth "falsehoods with regard to events in Kosovo and Metohija" during the NATO intervention and that in so doing committed a crime for which both I and those who prevented my so doing should be held accountable.

There is no doubt in my mind about whom you consider to be criminals,  terrorists and spies. In Serbia today, everyone, including children, are under suspicion by the authorities of being terrorists. When anyone dares to raise the question of the responsibility of the Yugoslav Army, you respond with secret trials. I am one of those people who refuse to remain silent, even at the cost of being brought to trial by you. I will not remain silent about the horrors your generals sent young recruits to witness in Kosovo. I can still see the anguish on the faces of 20-year-olds who gave their rations of milk, bread and cheese to Kosovo Albanian mothers and children driven from their homes by the Army and police.

The road from Kosovoska Mitrovica to Pec and Djakovica on 14 and 15 April is engraved on my memory: a column of Albanian civilians, young soldiers going up to them with tears in their eyes, pleading with them to accept their food, to forgive them, saying it was not their fault, that their officers ordered them to Kosovo, that they did not know where they were being taken. Young soldiers were the bright light of humanity and life in other localities of Kosovo too. I will not be silent about the suffering of civilians I saw in Kosovo.

I saw Albanian villages surrounded by tanks and heard the shelling. I saw  thousands of people leaving their homes with a bundle or two of belongings, ordered out by the police or Army who told them Kosovo was no longer their home. I saw columns of civilians on the roads. A few dared to stop for a moment to tell me how the Army shelled their village and ordered them out to Albania. As they were leaving, they saw police enter the village, plunder their property and torch their homes.

I spoke with people who were in Izbica on 26 March. They recounted how  they were surrounded by soldiers in green uniforms, reservists, who   separated the men to be shot. A woman described to me how soldiers went  through a mass of villagers, pointing to who would remain and who had to  leave, for Albania. They took her husband and father-in-law, an old man of 70, in a round up of 20 men. She saw them shot. When they came around a second time, her son was taken. She offered the soldiers money for her son's life but they said they could not let him go. She did not see her son shot, but later heard on the radio that he had been shot on that 26th of March. About 10,000 civilians were forced by shelling to leave a field near Izbica and set out for Albania. In these columns were mothers who were not allowed to see their dead children for a last time.

These, gentlemen, are facts about what happened in Kosovo during the state of war. Regrettably, this is the cruel truth about Izbica, Bela Crkva, Cuska, Vucitrn and many other places and not, as you maintain,  "falsehoods." If you can find no one else to hold accountable for these  events, you may count on me. I stand here and plead guilty because I did nothing to prevent these crimes from being committed. You rebuke me for not praising the Yugoslav Army, the astuteness of its commanding generals, its high morale, good tactics and ingenious camouflaging.

Do you really think the people of Serbia and Montenegro believe you fought  against a flesh and blood enemy, those you label "NATO criminals", and that you won? Every casualty of the NATO bombing is your casualty too. You wholeheartedly endorsed the war against "foreign occupation" only to sign the Military-Technical Agreement in Kumanovo on 9 June on the withdrawal of the Yugoslav Army, police,paramilitary and parapolice units from Kosovo.  And then you proclaimed victory. Yet you avoid meeting face to face with the parents of soldiers who were killed or went missing. You took their sons to Kosovo but not your own sons; you award medals to the sons of parents who only want to know where their sons are buried.

The issue of the legality and legitimacy of the NATO intervention in  FRYugoslavia has been raised at the international level. Legal experts are seriously analyzing possible violations of international humanitarian law by NATO. Very soon after the bombing of the Serbian Radio-Television building and the civilian deaths caused, the respected human rights organization Amnesty International came out with an expert opinion saying a civilian target had been attacked in contravention of the Geneva Conventions.

You say that I fail to mention the victims of the NATO bombing and the destruction it caused. May I remind you that I applied to you on 3 April for permission to research and investigate attacks on civilians and civilian targets. May I recall the bus tours organized by you of bombed locations, with passes issued only to selected reporters. You had an information monopoly; it was as if tourist attractions were involved, not human life.

Although the Humanitarian Law Center is the only human rights organization to have applied for such permission, your Press and Information Office, when we applied, made us wait for days before we were finally and bluntly told, "No! We know what kind of organization you are." You accuse me of passing over the crimes of "Shiptar terrorists" from 1 January 1998 to the present. What do you call those on "our side" who have committed crimes?  Do you consider them terrorists also or the nation's defenders?

What have you done to establish the fate of Serbs, Roma, Bosniacs and Montenegrins who disappeared when you had control over the territory of Kosovo? You treat these victims of before and after the arrival of the international force in Kosovo as numbers, as though the more dead and abducted, the better for the Serb cause. You say that you successfully opposed the world's strongest military force, that you beat NATO.

If you are so powerful why not do a simple thing for the good, this time, of the people of Serbia and Kosovo: ask those with whom you signed the Kumanovo Agreement to help with the clarification of the fate of the missing and the prisoners: 2,500 Albanians who went missing during the state of war, 1,150 Serbs, Roma, Montenegrins and Bosniacs who disappeared since the employment of the international force in Kosovo and about 900 Albanian who are being held prisoners in Serbia.

I stand where I have always stood, defending the right to life, the right to freely use one's native language, the right to freedom of movement, the right to publicly criticize authorities. I stand in support of every court that punishes the perpetrators of war crimes and those who ordered crimes against humanity. Ethnicity is irrelevant; a crime is a crime.

-- Natasa Kandic

Kandic, a leading Belgrade human rights activist, may be charged following the publication of the above article highlighting Yugoslav Army involvement in war crimes in Kosovo. See Kandic - the Next Filipovic?

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