Vol 1, No 11
6 September 1999
A F T E R M A T H:|
Retribution in Kosovo
Kosovo's remaining Serbs are increasingly becoming the victims of revenge attacks across the province. Relying on eyewitness accounts, these notes from Natasa Kandic, director of the Fund for Humanitarian Law in Belgrade, describe some of the difficulties in the investigation of atrocities perpetrated by both sides in the conflict and suggest the fate of many of the new disappeared.
My first meeting with the UCK (Kosovo Liberation Army) took place following threats to Albanian investigators on the premises of the Humanitarian Law Centre (FHP) in Ulcinj in Montenegro. Shortly after the signing of the agreement in Kumanovo on 12 June 1999, someone from the local UCK headquarters in Pec warned my investigators they would have to consider continuing to work for the Belgrade-based organization after returning to Kosovo. They were told that the situation had changed and that their liaison with Serbs could bring them trouble.
I decided to discuss these threats with the UCK commander, Agim Ceku.
I also considered this talk important in view of the killing of 44 men in his home village of Qyshk, one of whom was his father Hasan. I called on the UCK headquarters in Pristina on 2 July. In keeping with protocol, I was asked what language I would use during my interview with Ceku given that he did not speak Serbian. No one had any objection when I replied that I would speak Croatian.
Ceku made clear that the UCK would not interfere with the work of human rights organizations. As to the events in Qyshk of 14 May 1999, he said his service had information that the killing and the burning of bodies and houses was not the work of a paramilitary group but of a unit attached to the 125th Brigade of the Yugoslav Army (VJ). He referred me for further information to his sister, Ifete, who was present at the killing of his father, Hasan, and to the UCK local headquarters in Pec, which was in possession of written evidence on the possible involvement of the 125th Brigade.
In the Pec headquarters under the command of Ethem Ceku, a relative of Agim Ceku, I was shown a notebook belonging to a VJ lieutenant registering the military activities in the municipality of Pec after 24 March. The entry for 11 May said that the focus of military activities should be shifted to Qyshk and its vicinity. The local UCK headquarters in Pec also had a document marked confidential bearing the signature of the colonel in charge of the 125th Brigade.
I availed myself of the opportunity to raise the issue of the threats to my Albanian investigators and of my conversation with Agim Ceku. Ethem Ceku said that the matter of threats "must be some misunderstanding."
On 4 July, I paid my second visit to Qyshk. On my fist visit on 16 June I had interviewed two of the survivors. Their account was grisly. They spoke of looting, killing and burning of bodies. Agim Ceku's sister, a village teacher, was telling me about how the Serb soldiers burst into their house when Agim's brother came into the room. He told me straight away to leave their house, because the Albanians had their organs of government who would investigate the crime themselves. He told me he did not like my Serb name and that there would be no Serb names in Kosovo any more. Ifete felt embarrassed, but being a woman, she did not oppose her brother.
I went to their house again next day. I was sure that in that awkward moment of haste I had left behind my notes which were full of important information.
A woman who came out waved their head and said, "You didn't leave it here."
The next day, I went to the Patriarchate in Pec. It was surrounded by Italian members of KFOR. The church had offered accommodation to the relatives of Serbs who went missing in Pec after Albanians returned on 18 June.
Mitra Grujic was among them; I had heard of her before. Several Albanians in Pristina had told me about Serbs in Pec who had protected Albanians and looked after their property after their (Albanians') expulsion to Montenegro.
They spoke about Mitra with respect. They told me she had been taken to the Patriarchate and that her Albanian neighbours were looking after her house.
Mitra's husband, Branko Grujic, and his cousin, Milorad, had not been seen since 18 June. Mitra last saw Branko on 18 June at a UCK checkpoint opposite from the Beopetrol filling station near the old hospital. She and Branko had gone out separately to look for Milorad, who had been arrested two hours before as he left his apartment in the centre of Pec. Mitra saw UCK soldiers take Branko away. They told her he would be back shortly after making a statement.
She has made inquiries in connection with her husband's disappearance at the local UCK headquarters. She has been told that the UCK had nothing to do with his arrest and the disappearance of other Serbs.
In spite of the assurances by the local UCK headquarters, there is reliable information that the headquarters was responsible for the kidnapping of Serbs after 18 June. One of the Serbs arrested, a priest at the Patriarchate in Pec, was released on orders of the local UCK commander, Ethem Ceku. After being arrested, he was taken to a house where he saw two Serbs who have not been seen or heard of since. The order for his release was brought by a soldier with whom the priest had talked at the UCK checkpoint the day before when Branko Grujic was arrested. The priest described the soldier as a young man of medium height, lean, with short brown hair.
The priest was arrested on 19 June at the UCK checkpoint across from the Beopetrol filling station near the old hospital. He was stopped by three men in camouflage uniforms who searched his car. On the pretext of having found incriminating material - a mask (actually part of a seat cover), a knife and a mobile phone - they took him away for questioning into the yard of a white house belonging to a wealthy Roma near the filling station. There were about 20 soldiers in the yard. He saw Radonja Petrovic and, on the balcony, Milivoje Djuricic. He heard that they had been picked up in the street several hours before his arrival. He saw that Petrovic's jacket was torn. He also saw evidence of violence on both of them. The priest was taken out of the house into the cellar of the neighboring house.
The house was uninhabited and a self-service store called Renesansa was on its ground floor. A soldier gave the order to "get it over with." The priest saw a rifle with a silencer in the cellar. He also saw bullet holes and blood stains on one wall and on the floor. One of the three soldiers who had led him into the cellar - he could not have been older than 20 - ordered him to stand next to a wall and put the muzzle to his head, saying, "Now you're going pay for all those you've killed." At that moment, the soldier whom the priest had seen at the checkpoint the day before entered the cellar. The soldier, wearing full military uniform, ordered the other soldier to put the rifle away and let the priest go. He said that Ethen Ceku's orders were that "no one is to kill a priest." He untied the priest's hands, took him out of the cellar and returned his belongings and the car keys."
Natasa Kandic is the Director of the Fund for Humanitarian Law in Belgrade.
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