Articles on the Kosovo Conflict
Serbs force Albanian refugees back to a shattered land
By Anthony Loyd in Istinic, Kosovo
The Times of London
September 14, 1998
MORE than 50,000 ethnic Albanians abandoned their homes in Kosovo last week after a huge Serb offensive laid waste a swath of territory in the west of the province.
This latest internal exodus brings the number of those displaced to more than 400,000, nearly a quarter of Kosovo's population. Montenegro closed its borders to Kosovo on Saturday and yesterday deported about 3,000 refugees.
In June Mercy Corps International, an independent American-based aid organisation working in Kosovo, listed 149,617 people as displaced. Three months after the US and its allies threatened President Milosevic of Yugoslavia with NATO airstrikes, this number has rocketed to 411,769, while the potential of foreign intervention has all but faded.
In the war's blackest week to date, Serb armoured columns rampaged through a triangle of rural land between the towns of Pec, Dakovica and Klina destroying village after village.
Though there was little fighting, the zone nevertheless presented a glimpse of the apocalypse. Dense smoke poured into the sky, minarets emerging like rare blooms. Columns of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft guns swept out of the shattered ruins eastwards.
Behind them, scarcely a single Albanian remained. Dead dogs and livestock littered the fields; smashed cars and tractors lay overturned on the verges of empty roads; bandana-clad police looted and burnt whatever the shelling and shooting had left behind.
Kosovo Liberation Army resistance was isolated and ineffective, most of the separatist rebels preferring to abandon their weapons and run.
Early in the week, the Serbs had found their justification for this punitive excess just outside the village of Glodane. Here, in a muddy waste, lay the bodies of at least five murdered Serb civilians. By Sunday, the Serbs had found 19 more.
The people responsible for this crime may or may not have been among the terrified refugees who crowded into Istinic, just beyond Decane. Some 50,000 people from more than 40 villages - sick, hungry and many wounded - had by last Thursday clustered in and around the village.
On Saturday the authorities decided to disperse the refugees back into the zone of destruction from which they had escaped. Armoured personnel carriers corralled the jumble of tractors and carts loaded with refugees while police with sticks gave added encouragment to anyone who missed the message from the bullhorns.
By nightfall, Istinic was empty.