Articles on the Kosovo Conflict



War Crime Investigators Overwhelmed
National Public Radio
All Things Considered
June 30, 1999

NOAH ADAMS, host: This is NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Noah Adams.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host: And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

During the war in Yugoslavia, people fleeing Kosovo told horrible stories of massacres carried out by Yugoslav forces. Aerial photographs located what were believed to be mass graves. This preliminary evidence led the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague to indict Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four other officials. Since the fighting stopped a few weeks ago, the full extent of the killing has started to come to light. As NPR's Mike Shuster reports, it is almost impossible to go anywhere in Kosovo without coming across evidence of an atrocity.

MIKE SHUSTER REPORTING: One of the first atrocities to take place in Kosovo occurred here, in this tiny farming hamlet tucked far up in the green foothills of the Drenica Valley in the center of the province. It's called Izbica. On March 27th, just three days after the NATO bombing campaign began, Yugoslav soldiers and paramilitary police rounded up several hundred men and teen-age boys, brought them to Izbica and divided them into two groups. Sixty-two-year-old Mustafa Drogaj (ph) was in a group the Serbs took up a hill.

MR. MUSTAFA DROGAJ: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED TRANSLATOR: They started shooting, and only the ones who laid down
in the grass pretending they were dead survived.

MR. DROGAJ: (Foreign language spoken)

TRANSLATOR: Mm-hmm. He laid down in the grass.

MR. DROGAJ: (Foreign language spoken)

TRANSLATOR: `About 20 minutes, I couldn't even take a breath.'

SHUSTER: The fate of the other group was far worse, with fewer survivors. On a
gentle slope just across the footpath here, the Serbs opened fire and gunned
down more than 140. They left with the bodies lying in a huge, bloody heap.
Villagers who were hiding in the hills, including Mustafa Drogaj, came down the
next day to bury the dead.

MR. DROGAJ: (Foreign language spoken)

TRANSLATOR: After they killed them, he says, `I was here to bury them.'

MR. DROGAJ: (Foreign language spoken)

TRANSLATOR: Most of them, you couldn't recognize.

MR. DROGAJ: (Foreign language spoken)

TRANSLATOR: `Yes, all day, we worked to bury them, from the morning until dawn.'

SHUSTER: Did he know people who were killed there?

TRANSLATOR: (Foreign language spoken)

MR. DROGAJ: (Foreign language spoken)

TRANSLATOR: `Yes, I knew them.'

SHUSTER: Several men did survive the massacre at Izbica and eventually told
investigators from the War Crimes Tribunal. An aerial photo of the graves was
published in many newspapers and apparently, as a result of the publicity, Serb
troops came back here in late May and removed the bodies. Izbica is one of the
seven massacre sites mentioned in the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic,
charging him with ordering the planned slaughter of civilians in Kosovo in
retaliation for NATO's bombing. On Monday, forensic investigators from France
arrived at the grave site to look for physical evidence to corroborate the
stories of the survivors. War crimes investigator Yves Roix(ph) says they found it quickly.

MR. YVES ROIX: We started this morning at 8:00, and they already found fragment
of bones, a piece of clothing, a piece of hair, at the site. From the
information that we have from eyewitnesses and things like that, it's
corroborated 100 percent where they were shot and things like that, because we
found empty shells and things like that, so that what they told us is exactly
what happened here.

SHUSTER: The investigation of the War Crimes Tribunal is already well under
way, but the tribunal staff of specialists is woefully small for the scale of
the killing that took place in Kosovo over the course of three short months. So
many nations are sending forensic detectives to help with the work. In addition
to the French, there are specialists from Scotland Yard in Great Britain, from
Canada, Switzerland and more than 50 crime scene specialists from the FBI. They
have been sifting through another scene of murder, in Djakovica in southwestern
Kosovo. The killing here was also included in the Milosevic indictment. Twenty
women and children were killed and their bodies burned in the basement of a
home on what was a quiet city street. Six others were murdered in another house.
David Scheffer, the State Department's special envoy for war crimes issues,
said it is becoming clear that the Serbs carried out murder like this literally
everywhere in Kosovo.

MR. DAVID SCHEFFER (STATE DEPARTMENT): You could walk down any street like this
and look at any demolished home, and you have to speculate to what extent there
are bodies in those homes. We are very aware that killings and other deaths
occurred in these homes as they were being destroyed, and so almost any block
of this town is representative of what the tribunal and the FBI investigators
are now looking at, at two particular sites.

SHUSTER: The murderous activities of the Serb forces in Kosovo are proving to
be far more extensive than even the refugees could tell. Investigators from the
War Crimes Tribunal have been at work for years in Croatia and Bosnia where, at
one place, Srebrenica, it's believed 7,000 men were murdered four years ago. So
far, there is nothing like the scale of Srebrenica in a single incident in
Kosovo, but Paul Risley, the spokesman for the War Crimes Tribunal, says the
killing took place literally everywhere in the territory.

MR. PAUL RISLEY (SPOKESMAN, War Crimes Tribunal): The apparent number of sites
of mass graves and of massacres that are reported to us and to KFOR every day
increasing is shocking to even the most experienced of our investigators who
have been working on this issue for, you know, one or two or more years and
even individuals with experience in Bosnia and Croatia. That just--the
concentrated level of violence is certainly astonishing.

SHUSTER: One terrible example of this concentrated level of violence is in the
handful of villages in Cikatove, about an hour's drive west of Pristina,
Kosovo's capital. There was a lot of fighting in Cikatove between Serb forces
and the Kosovo Liberation Army. On the edge of the villages is a tough, wild
patch of scrub thistle and bramble. There, local KLA fighters dug a trench
about 1,000 yards long, which they used for hiding and ambushing Serb troops.
In April, the Serbs gathered up villagers, lined them up along the trench and
shot them down. The Serbs then pushed small, inadequate mounds of earth over the bodies.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: See the clothes? The hands? You see?


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

WOMAN: There's a pool of dead bodies you see there.

SHUSTER: So there seem to be several bodies just thrown into this trench, earth
moved quickly over them. A hand inside a sleeve is on one side of this mound of
dirt and then legs protruding from the earth on this side.

Every 20 feet or so, there's another mound of earth in the trench with parts of
the dead bodies protruding grotesquely from the surface. Local villagers don't
have any idea how many are buried here. And this is not the only site in
Cikatove. There are two other mass graves, dug by Albanian hostages, the
villagers say, who were then shot as they stood by the side of the holes.
Chefchet Marina(ph), 26 years old, was a KLA guerrilla here, and members of his
family, including his father, died in the atrocities perpetrated here, probably
in reprisal for the KLA's attacks, which explains why Chefchet finds it hard to
talk about what happened in Cikatove and why.

MR. CHEFCHET MARINA: (Foreign language spoken)

WOMAN: He said that in this place, they killed four members of his family, and
the first bodies was here and after that, they took the bodies and...

SHUSTER: And who were those who were killed?

WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MR. MARINA: (Foreign language spoken)

WOMAN: The dad, his nephew, his brother and his uncle.

SHUSTER: The War Crimes Tribunal has been informed about the two mass graves in
Cikatove, but apparently not about the trench. Cikatove is not included among
the seven sites in the Milosevic indictment. It is not clear when the
tribunal's investigators will come here or even if they will be able to allot
the time and investigative resources to look at these places. A spokesman for
the tribunal, Jim Landale, admits the tribunal has been overwhelmed by the
crimes that were committed in Kosovo.

MR. JIM LANDALE (SPOKESMAN, War Crimes Tribunal): Realistically speaking, the
tribunal is not going to be able to investigate every single crime scene in
Kosovo. It's clear that there are crime scenes the length and breadth of
Kosovo, and it's clear that many, many crimes have been committed. What we will
be able to do is to collect information and evidence from the sites which are
important, which relate specifically to our ongoing investigations and which
will provide physical evidence to corroborate witness testimony that we already have.

SHUSTER: One terrible, terrible place the War Crimes Tribunal is not
investigating is the village of Cirez, also in the Drenica Valley in central
Kosovo. The killing in Cirez did not occur until very late in the war, in the
few days just before the Serbs pulled out of Kosovo about three weeks ago. In
Cirez, according to local villagers, Serb troops held some 80 young women from
surrounding villages as hostages. Some of the villagers fled to nearby hills
and watched what was going on with binoculars. They described seeing a steady
stream of Serb cars and other vehicles arrive and leave Cirez over the course
of weeks. The women were held in several houses on a hilltop above the main
dirt road that runs through the village. The villagers believe the women were
raped constantly by these visiting Serb troops and police. In the last days,
the women were murdered, and villagers in the hills saw the Serbs dump bodies
into a well. In fact, there are three wells in Cirez that hold bodies. From
each emanates the heavy odor of death. In one inside the yard of a charred and
wrecked home, villagers have put two wooden covers over the opening to prevent
the smell from overpowering the broken people that are trying to live here.

About 25 feet below the surface, there can be seen three or four blankets of
different colors, some red, some checkered, gray and black. And distinctly
under the checkered blanket, there's a shape of a body. You can make out the
thigh, the knee, the leg and the foot and the arm, and it's a shape that
distinctly resembles the shape of a human body lying on its side.

Nobody knows what to do about the bodies in the wells here or in hundreds of
similar spots across Kosovo. The villagers told British troops about the wells,
and the troops told the villagers to let the bodies lie there for the time
being. It is not clear whether this place will be investigated, nor who will
remove the bodies, nor whether the villagers might be able to decontaminate the water.

In their retreat, in addition to the killings they carried out, the Serbs
demolished Cirez. Nearly every building, shop and home is scorched and gutted.
Everything is burned, and dead cows and horses litter the ground. The Serbs
intended that the villagers who returned here would find nothing but
devastation. A few dozen villagers have returned. They are dazed, profoundly
shocked and uncertain of whether they can reconstruct their lives here,
especially with so many dead lying in full view just a few paces away.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken)

WOMAN: They still don't know exactly how are they dead, and it's going to be
very, very hard for people to live here around, because they know this tragedy
happened here and it's going to be very, very hard for them.

SHUSTER: Someday, the world will probably have a reasonably full accounting of
how many were murdered and tortured in Kosovo, how they were killed and where.
Right now, no estimates, whatever their source, can be accurate. No one yet is
counting. The numbers are too high and the bodies are everywhere. Gradually,
though, the full picture will become known, and at least for now, the community
of nations that is in control of Kosovo, notoriously fickle and even cowardly
in similar circumstances in Cambodia and Rwanda and Bosnia, seems intent on
seeking justice for what happened here.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Cirez.


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