Lipljan (Lipjan) MunicipalityThe municipality of Lipljan (Lipjan) is situated in central Kosovo, with the main Pristina-Skopje highway passing close to its municipal capital, Lipljan town. Unlike the neighboring municipalities of Glogovac and Stimlje, Lipljan was not a focus of KLA activity or counter-insurgency by Serbian security forces during 1998, perhaps as a result of its ethnically-mixed population. This included large numbers of Serbs and a significant Roma and ethnic Croat population. Almost immediately after NATO airstrikes began, however, Serbian military and police began to enter and attack ethnic Albanian villages, forcing their inhabitants to flee to neighboring areas. In addition to large-scale displacement, there was arson and looting of Albanian homes and businesses in the municipality. Although Lipljan did not experience the level of killings suffered in Glogovac or Suva Reka, there were large-scale killings in three villages-Slovinje, Malo Ribare and Mali Alas-in mid-April. In Slovinje, for example, at least thirty-five people were killed on April 15 and 16. Finally, over the last week of April and first week of May 1999, thousands of Lipljan-area residents were forced to board trains and were expelled into Macedonia while others were sent towards Albania.
Although Lipljan municipality was not a center of KLA activity, it was the focus on considerable attention from Serbian security forces between March and June 1999. The testimony of the more than thirty witnesses from the area interviewed by Human Rights Watch indicates a pattern of attacks against many villages even while certain villages were spared direct assault. The objective of the attacks seems to have been to concentrate the population within a small area, prior to their subsequent expulsion from Kosovo. There were several waves of offensives, first immediately following NATO airstrikes at the end of March. Subsequent offensives in April aimed at driving away villagers who tried to return home, while massacres in several villages served to terrorize many of the municipality's inhabitants into fleeing to Macedonia.
Albanian residents in the town of Lipljan were forced out of their homes within days of the start of NATO airstrikes through the burning of Albanian homes and house to house searches by Serbian police, and indirectly, out of fear at the large concentration of Serbian security forces in the town following the departure of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission. A.I., a thirty-three-year-old Lipljan resident, described the climate of fear that forced him and his family to leave:
I was living in the center [of the town] in a building. On March 23, more than one hundred police were stationed at the administrative office for agriculture, four meters away from our [apartment] building. On Wednesday March 24 we felt fear when we saw a lot of movement of police and military in front of the building. At around 3:00 p.m. we were forced [by fear] to take our children and go to my nephew's house in the suburbs about 300 meters away from the town. We stayed two days in that house. On March 28 at around 9 p.m. the shooting and burning of Albanian homes in the town began. The burning houses were getting closer and closer to us. At around 10:30 p.m. we saw seven police officers from the window [of the house] about five meters away. Fortunately . . . they went to a neighbor's house which was empty. In the space of three minutes, all seventeen of us in the house left. We crossed through muddy fields to a village two kilometers _away with our children in our arms. We arrived in Bandulic village at around 1:00 a.m.1
A.I. and his family left Bandulic (Banulle) around April 8 for Lugadzija (Llugagji), a village several kilometers farther south which served as a war-time refuge for many displaced families from the municipality. They spent several weeks there before returning to Lipljan on April 24. On their return to Lipljan, the family spent another week in A.I.'s nephew's house in the suburbs before fleeing to Macedonia. Most Bandulic residents fled to Macedonia in the last week of April, following an ultimatum from the police for the villagers "to hand over all their weapons" and several bouts of arson and robbery by police and paramilitaries.2 Lipljan residents interviewed by the OSCE describe a similar pattern of police activity and arson in the town in late March, as well as direct expulsions of Albanian residents.3
Villages east of Lipljan were targeted in operations staged from Babus, a Serb village in the northernmost part of Urosevac municipality. Neighboring Muhadzer Babus (Babush i Muhaxhere), a predominantly ethnic Albanian village in southern Lipljan, was attacked with gunfire and grenades by Serbian forces the same evening that NATO airstrikes began, causing the villagers to flee. Several weeks later, after some inhabitants had returned, the village was attacked again with gunfire. Although residents initially fled to nearby Gornje Gadimlje (Gadime e Eperme) which had itself been attacked within days of the start of airstrikes, the inhabitants of Muhadzer Babus eventually took refuge in the village of Lugadzija, which in contrast with most of the surrounding villages was largely left undisturbed.4 S.S., a thirty-six-year-old man from the village, explained to Human Rights Watch what he had experienced:
On the first day of airstrikes we were very pleased, but the airstrikes began at 8:00 p.m. in our village and at midnight the first grenades fell on our village from Srpksi Babus. It's two kilometers away. The inhabitants are all Serbs-they were our neighbors. . . . It wasn't until the morning when we saw the craters [blast damage] that we realized that the grenades had come from Babus. Those of us who had small children took them to other villages. I took mine to Gadimlje. It was the second day of airstrikes [March 25]. . . . About ten days or two weeks after the NATO bombing [commenced] when we went back to our houses suddenly a column of between ten and thirteen tanks entered [Muhadzer Babus] without warning. They were shooting with automatic rifles and anti-aircraft weapons. We had five minutes to leave the village. We couldn't take any clothes. I couldn't take my passport. Then we went to Lugadzija.5
On April 26, after learning of mass killings in the villages of Slovinje, Malo Ribare, and Mali Alas (see below), S.S. decided to take his family to Macedonia. He explained his decision: "We were not frightened by the massacre in Slovinje. . . . but when it happened in [Malo] Ribare and [Mali] Alas we were afraid. We were unarmed and the children were very afraid so we had no choice but to leave."6
The village of Donje Gadimlje (Gadime e Ulet) was shelled from Babus within days of the start of NATO strikes. A witness from Donje Gadimlje interviewed by Human Rights Watch described the arrival of residents from Crnilo (Cernille), a village in northern Urosevac close to Muhadzer Babus, "five or six days after NATO started bombing."7 He explained that "we couldn't sleep at all at night, because once NATO bombardments stopped, they [Serbian forces] would shell our village." Several days later (around April 1), Serbian forces entered Donje Gadimlje with tanks at around noon, causing the villagers to flee to a nearby river. After reassurances that the forces were just there to find shelter from NATO bombing, some residents returned the same day, only to flee again at around 5:00 p.m. after the arrival of the Serbian army with five tanks, which according to two witnesses, were shooting in the air.8 Some villagers fled to Gornje Gadimlje to the east, some to Smolusa in the north and others to Glogovce, a village close to Lipljan. Although nearby Gornje Gadimlje was also attacked in late March, causing some of its residents to flee to Smolusa, many of the villagers either remained or returned, since residents from Muhadzer Babus and Donje Gadimlje both report taking shelter there in mid-April, together with large numbers of displaced persons from other villages.9 On April 16 or 17, however, Serbian police and paramilitaries entered Gornje Gadimlje at around 1:30 p.m. and ordered everyone in the village to leave for Albania within two hours.10
Some villagers were on the move for most of April. M.L., a thirty-six-year-old man from Donje Gadimlje described his ordeal:
It was nine days after the bombing started that we had to leave the first time [approximately April 2]. The military came at around 2:00 p.m. and did a patrol with tanks and then left. Two hours they returned and forced us out. Nobody was allowed to take cars or tractors. . . . We were obliged to go to Smolusa. After one week they came to Smolusa at 6:00 a.m.-we heard the shooting. It was the [same] military who were in Gadimlje. First they said no one is going to touch you. Then they came back after two or three hours and said "it's not safe for you here anymore. You have to leave Smolusa." So we went back to Gadimlje at 3:00 p.m., but not back to our houses. They had burned about half of the village. We stayed for twenty-four hours then the military came again and said "between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. everyone has to leave, including Gornje Gadimlje." So we left and went to Lugadzija. We stayed only two days there because it was overcrowded. Then we went back to Smolusa. We stayed in Smolusa one week and then went back to Gadimlje after a villager was told by a police commander that it was safe to go back. But when we went back the shooting continued all night long and three houses were burned so we left for Macedonia after two nights. 11
The villages of Marevce and Glavica were targeted several weeks later. According to S.S., the tanks located in Muhadzer Babus relocated to the villages of Glavica and Marevce at around 4:30 a.m. a week after they had entered. S.S. explained that he knew this because the road from Muhadzer Babus to Glavica passes through Lugadzija and he had heard the tanks.12 This account is consistent with the testimony of Q.F., a woman from Marevce, who told Human Rights Watch that the village was attacked early on the morning of April 15, exactly three weeks after the inhabitants of Muhadzer Babus had initially fled their village. Q.F. described the attack:
The Serb offensive came early in the morning before sunrise. We heard the noise of tanks from Babus village. When they entered the side of our village we could hear the shooting. The noise and fear woke us up and we went into the yard. When they were shooting we lay down on the ground. No one was hit. There were about ten of us. Bullets were going over our heads. [There were] a lot of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and civilian cars. Afterwards, ground troops came down from the upper part of the village. They went to Upper Glavica and our neighborhood and gave an order to leave the houses. After that the situation became calmer. [The villagers from] Glavica and Marevce ran away but our part of the village stayed until the afternoon at around 3:00 p.m. After that a tank and armored car came and started to burn houses in Glavica village. After they burned the houses in Glavica, they burned houses in the upper part of Marevce. After that we left and went to Lugadzija.13
Q.F., who was pregnant, decided to travel to Macedonia soon after because of "fear that something might happen again."14
On the same day that Marevce and Glavica were attacked, Serbian police and paramilitaries entered the village of Slovinje, executed eighteen of its Albanian inhabitants, and ordered the remainder to go to nearby Smolusa (see below). The following day, April 16, paramilitaries surrounded a large number of residents taking shelter in the hills close to the village and separated the men from the women. Fifteen men were then shot dead and a woman was burned to death on a tractor by the paramilitaries, according to witnesses. Some residents fled to Macedonia at the beginning of May, although many took shelter in neighboring villages or hid in the hills. Together with the villages of Malo Ribare and Mali Alas (see below), Slovinje endured the worst wartime abuses in the entire municipality.
The villages of Toplicane (Toplican) and Glogovce south of Lipljan were not attacked directly, but were frequently visited by Serbian security forces in March and April, creating a climate of fear and uncertainty that led many residents to flee to Macedonia. Both villages suffered widespread arson as well as robbery and extortion by police and paramilitaries. According to F.P., the intimidation in Toplicane began soon after the start of NATO airstrikes: "First they burned three houses where the OSCE had been staying. This was about four days after the NATO airstrikes started. Around one week after the strikes, they started to rob houses."15 Finally, F.P. took his family to Macedonia by train on April 22, "because of fear and because of our children."
In Glogovce (Gllogoc), the house burning and looting were accompanied by threats and extortion. In early April, Glogovce residents were forced to leave their houses for an hour and half, while police looted and burned them. According to M.L., a twenty-five-year old man from the village: "The police entered Bandulic. After that they came to our village. It was around three weeks ago [approximately April 6]. We had to leave our houses and go one hundred meters away just for somebody not to be killed."16 When M.L. and the other villagers returned home they found that the police "had burned twenty-five houses and stolen money and anything else they could find." The family of forty-year-old A.A, suffered escalating violence that culminated in his daughter's kidnap for ransom:
The day that they burned our houses was Saturday. Six days later they came and took my car. They caught my daughter three days before we left-Friday or Saturday. We were inside around 9:00 a.m. They caught my child outside playing. . . . They had a white van. They were Serb civilians, always armed. . . . They said "give us money or we'll kill the child." I gave them a thousand Deutsche Marks and a gold necklace. They released her half an hour later and left. One hour later regular police came. I told them what happened. They knew who they were but pretended to ask for a description of the _car etc.17
A.A. and his family left Glogovce for Macedonia on Monday, April 26. When asked why he left, he explained: "It was a very big panic. If you stayed any longer it might be too late."18 According to witness statements obtained by the OSCE in Macedonia, many Glogovce residents had reached the same conclusion by the end of April.19
Serbian security forces launched a series of offensives against the villages west of Lipljan on April 18. Bujance, a village southwest of Lipljan close to the Lipljan-Stimlje road, was attacked with mortars or grenades early on the morning of April 18 according to B.B, a thirty-three-year-old resident of the village interviewed by Human Rights Watch.20 A witness from the nearby village of Toplicane said that he saw grenades being fired on Bujance at around 6 a.m. from neighboring Staro Gracko, a predominantly Serbian village to the north of Bujance.21 As a result of the attack, the younger inhabitants of Bujance fled to the hills near to the village of Varigovce (Varigove), although some elderly residents remained in the center of the village. Bujance also suffered looting and arson during the offensive, according to B.B. and witnesses interviewed by the OSCE.22 The nearby village of Krajiste (Krajishte) was also targeted on April 18, according to a thirty-five-year-old woman from the village: "on Sunday, our village was attacked at 6:00 a.m. by three tanks. All the village left immediately."23 According to the witness, three villagers were killed on the day of the attack, including a middle-aged woman, a teenage boy, and twenty-year-old woman.24 After spending five days in the hills close to the village of Varigovce, the villager returned to Krajishte after Serbs from the village told them it was safe to return. The decision of most of the villagers to flee to Macedonia several days later seems to have been prompted more by fear that Serbian forces would return than by any specific incident.
The villages of Malo Ribare and Mali Alas were attacked on April 18 and 19. The villages, which lie approximately three kilometers apart, are close to the village of Novo Rujce (Rufc i Ri), which although its residents remained, was spared the same violence as its close neighbors. Nevertheless, the proximity of Novo Rujce to the two villages left its inhabitants in no doubt as to what was happening nearby. Y.S., a twenty-eight-year-old man from Novo Rujce described his experiences on April 18:
I was at home in Novo Rujce with my family when the incidents happened in [Malo] Ribare and [Mali] Alas. It was Sunday when the massacre happened in [Malo] Ribare. We heard the first shots at 6:15 am. At 7:00 a.m., smoke was rising from the first houses. . . . then the women began screaming. We were forced to leave our house . . . Then us men went there [Malo Ribare] to try and help them at around 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. We went around the village. . . . We found some wounded people. There were four of them-an old man, an old woman, and two young men (around twenty-five-years-old). So we tried to help them. After an hour the lady died. . . . We couldn't see anyone else.25
Despite assurances from his Serb neighbors that the attack on Malo Ribare would not be repeated in Novo Rujce, house-to-house visits from paramilitaries demanding money and the burning of a house in nearby Mali Alas convinced Y.S. to leave. He took his family to Velika Dobranja (Dobraje e Madhe) for one week. Y.S. tried to return to Novo Rujce but was ordered out by paramilitaries after two nights, forcing him to flee to Lugadzija before eventually being forced to board a train to Macedonia on May 4.
The fears generated by the attack on Malo Ribare for Y.S. and his family proved to be well-founded. Early on April 18, Serbian forces, including tanks, police, and paramilitaries entered the village. According to multiple eyewitnesses, the paramilitaries then went on a rampage of murder that left between twenty-four and twenty-seven dead, including women, children and the elderly.26 J.K., a forty-year-old resident of Malo Ribare described what he witnessed:
The massacre happened on Sunday April 18 at 6:00 a.m. Four different kinds of paramilitaries arrived with tanks. They executed whoever they saw in the streets from seven [years old] to eighty-seven [years old]. . . . They didn't choose by sex or age. Most of the people they killed were killed by a gun shot in the neck, heart, or forehead. They burned nineteen houses and stayed two days. . . . They came without warning. . . . A force of about seventy entered the village with a few tanks and APCs. There was a tank at the start [of the convoy] with a heavy gun, after that two APCs and after them a truck loaded with paramilitaries who got off the truck and spread around the village. . . . As soon as the forces entered and the shooting started, people began running away. I was going around knocking on doors telling people to get out. In half an hour the whole village was empty. . . . I saw everything. I saw one person shot in the neck. I saw another person shot in the heart. A woman with _me was shot from behind. I saw almost all the people being shot apart from four. . . .27
J.K. named eighteen persons from the village who were executed, including a seven-year-old girl and fourteen-year-old boy, as well as six displaced persons from the village of Vrsevce (Vershec) in the western part of Lipljan municipality. J.K. described paramilitaries wearing "various hats and uniforms," including Chetnik hats, bobble hats, red bandanas, as well as green camouflage uniforms without insignia."28 J.K. returned to the village one week later, but found the "village was burned and demolished." He fled to Macedonia soon after.
The neighboring village of Mali Alas was attacked the following day. On the morning of April 19, Serbian paramilitaries entered the village and separated men from women. The paramilitaries demanded money from and then executed at least twenty men. One witness interviewed by Deutsche Presse Agenteur said he was among thirteen men lined up against the wall of a house and shot.29 While he and another man escaped by feigning death, eleven men were killed. Another nine men from the village were also shot the same day, according to this witness. Witnesses interviewed by the OSCE (who may include the same man) describe the same event, including the shooting of the eleven in identical terms; they also provide additional information about the other killings.30 Although most of the details are common to all accounts, some witnesses claimed twenty were executed and others twenty-one.31 An explanation for the disparity may lie in the statement of an elderly woman from Suvi Do (Suhodoll) village who was interviewed by the Boston Globe in June 1999.32 The woman, who was present in the village at the time of the killings, said that Serbian forces had demanded that a Roma man from the village help to bury the bodies of the dead, a detail echoed in other witness statements, and stated that after the Roma man had refused to do so, he was shot dead. Most accounts suggest that the bodies of the victims were initially buried in a single grave, but were reinterred sometime in early May into the individual graves that postwar visitors to the village observed, presumably in an attempt to conceal the nature of the deaths.
Some of the worst atrocities in Lipljan municipality occurred in the village of Slovinje. Slovinje, which lies approximately eight kilometers east of Lipljan was a mixed village prior to the war, comprising around 500 Albanian and sixty Serb homes. Relations between the Albanian and Serb villagers were reportedly good prior to March 1999. The villagers do not appear to have been involved in the KLA and, unusually for Kosovo, many of the Serb villagers spoke Albanian in addition to Serbian. The violence that occurred on several days in April shattered that community: at least thirty-five Albanian villagers were executed on April 15 and 16. The survivors fled to neighboring villages, and many continued on to Macedonia. As the war neared its end in early June, two elderly brothers who had returned early were detained and beaten. One died from his injuries. Today Slovinje is a community in tatters: almost every Albanian family has had one or more relatives killed, all of the Serb and most of the Roma population have fled the village, dozens of Albanian and Serb homes have been burned to ground and the Orthodox church lies in ruins.
Tensions in Slovinje were raised following the departure of the OSCE KVM on March 20 and the start of NATO airstrikes four days later, with Albanians from the village particularly concerned about deteriorating security elsewhere in Kosovo. Those concerns were brought home on April 14, 1999. According to F.B, a thirty-eight-year-old Albanian man from the village, an armored personnel carrier entered the village at around 4:30 p.m. and left without incident.33 Another villager, F.G., told Human Rights Watch that he observed a Serb villager from Slovinje in a military vehicle the same evening.34 Both men stated that Serb villagers had advised their Albanian neighbors and the local Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) office on the evening of April 14 that tanks were going to be brought into the village the following day, but that "there would be no consequences," since the tanks were simply being moved to evade NATO bombers.35
At around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. on April 15, six tanks entered Slovinje. According to witnesses, the forces with them were a combination of police, military, and paramilitaries, some of them wearing masks. Villagers allege that some of the paramilitaries were residents of Slovinje.36 Aside from reports that soldiers or paramilitaries painted the four C's (a Serbian symbol of four Cyrillic letter S's in the shape of a cross) on doors and windows during the morning, the village was quiet until around 1:30 p.m., when multiple witnesses report hearing gunshots and seeing smoke and flames from burning houses in the north side of the village (closer to the road from Lipljan). Soon after, the village suffered its first victims: Fatushe Dubova, a nineteen-year-old woman, was shot in the yard of her house, possibly by a sniper. According to several witnesses, Hedije Krasniqi, a fifty-two-year-old woman, was shot at close range in the street outside her house around 2:00 p.m. Next to die were the men of the Gashi family, whose family compound was close to the entrance of the village, across from the school. Z.G., a female relative who was present in the Gashi compound at the time, described seeing "forces from Gusterica and Dobratin villages in military uniform" as well as persons wearing "masks and police uniforms." She explained to Human Rights Watch how she witnessed the execution of her male relatives:
We were all inside when the Serbs came. They were wearing masks and police uniforms. They knocked on the door and came inside the house. It was around 2:00 p.m. They told us to get out of the house because they were going to burn it. When we left the house, they took the men among us, and told us [women and children] to go to Smolusa. My husband didn't want to leave . . . but they even took him. . . . Then a man said "should I burn the house or should I kill them?" Another replied "better kill them and then take care of the house.". . . . All of the us started to scream "don't do that," but they didn't listen. Only one person fired. He was given a hand signal. I didn't recognize him. He was thin, had red hair and red beard. He was wearing a police uniform, and was in his late twenties or early thirties.37
According to Z.G., five male members of the Gashi family were executed in the yard: sixty-three-year-old Murat; forty-year-old Enver, and thirty-four-year-old Omer, his two sons; twenty-year-old Bekim Haziri, his grandson, and sixteen-year-old-old Arben, Enver's son. Z.G. alleges that several Serb residents of Slovinje were involved in the murder of her relatives (see below). On or around the same time, Rifat Gashi and his cousin Milaim were shot dead by a sniper. Three witnesses told Human Rights Watch that forty-six-year-old Rifat Gashi and twenty-two-year-old Milaim were killed by a sniper in the yard of their house on the afternoon of April 15.38 Three girls from the family were also wounded in attack. Two of the witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch had helped bury the two cousins in temporary graves.
In the meantime, the Albanian residents were being ordered to leave the village and go to nearby Smolusa by Serbian police and paramilitaries. According to I.N., a sixty-year-old man, "We heard rifle shots outside on the other side of the village. We went outside the house and a Serbian officer gave a `thumbs up' indicating that we had to leave. I asked him which way to go and he told us to go to Smolusa. He was wearing a green uniform, not camouflage, like a soldier."39 Several elderly men refused to leave their homes. Fifty-nine-year-old Adem Bytyqi, remained in his home on April 15 and was found dead in a field by his brother five days later. Avjaz Gashi, a sixty-two-year-old man also refused to leave and was subsequently found shot in the yard of his house.
Some residents had already decided to leave once the shooting began. Most were able to flee, but some were executed as they tried to leave. One witness, M.B., saw Gafur Hyseni pulled off his tractor by police and shot.40 Another witness from Gadimlje told Human Rights Watch how paramilitaries took his nephew Faik Krasniqi off his tractor and shot him, in front of his children.41 A third witness, F.G., saw both bodies. Ramadan Kryeziu, a twenty-nine-year-old man, was stopped by the police as he drove out of the village and then allowed to proceed. Kryeziu was later found dead, according to several witnesses, including his father.42 Three elderly villagers were also found dead near to their home. The bodies of seventy-three-year-old Mehmet Sopa, eighty-seven-year-old Shehide Sopa, and sixty-four-year-old Qamille Sopa were found with knife wounds in a horse stable. Relatives found blood in the yard of their house. In all, eighteen residents of Slovinje were killed on April 15. Latife Kryeziu, a forty-seven-year-old woman who was wounded on April 15, died several days later in Smolusa.
While part of the village went southwest to Smolusa, others, including many of the men, fled east toward the village of Zhegovac (Zhegofc) to a place in the hills called "the Dell of Deme" (Lugu i Demas). The dell consists of a large field surrounded by woods connected to a smaller field on higher ground. The villagers spent the night in the dell, sleeping on open ground in the rain. According to one villager, "that night we began to talk about who was dead and who was missing."43 People from other villages were also sheltering nearby. One witness estimates that there were around 800 people in the dell on the morning of April 16. The villagers spent the morning building temporary shelters and organizing food supplies and vehicles. At around 2:00 p.m., Serbian paramilitaries appeared at the top of the dell. S.B., a sixty-two-year-old man from the village told Human Rights Watch:
At 2:00 p.m. they came from the higher part of the hill and started to force us [down the hill]. The woods were full of soldiers and paramilitaries. Ten of them came closer to us and began to shoot. . . . They told us all to move down [the hill]. One of them with a gun told us to take out all the money, identification papers and gold that we had. Another one started to search us to see if we kept anything. . . . They separated thirteen people, made them put their hands up. . . . One kicked me in the shoulder and I fell down. They beat the younger [men] one by one with fists and the butts of their guns. . . . Then they ordered us to separate from the women and children. The women and children were ordered down to the field [below]. They ordered us men to go to another side. They told us to go up into the woods, all the time saying "you were asking for NATO, now let NATO come and help you."44
F.B, a twenty-nine-year-old male relative of S.B., was also present. He told Human Rights Watch:
The shooting was very intense and very close to us. At around 2:00 p.m. Serbian forces entered the field from two sides-above and below. That's when we saw them for the first time. . . . .In a panic, we put up our hands to surrender. They began to tell us to get together. . . . They moved us to the lower part of the field. As they were moving us, one person was killed-a man who didn't want to leave his sick wife. My nineteen-year-old nephew was wounded because the young people were moving around a lot, trying to hide. We were all in the lower part of the field. Five armed Serbs were standing in front of us with dark military uniforms. They were all between thirty and forty years old. One who spoke to us in Albanian had a black mask on his face. Most of the Serbian forces were 300 meters lower down in another field.45
F.G. confirmed the killing of Jonuz Pacolli, the man with the sick wife.46 According to F.G., "the biggest abuses began" after Jonuz Pacolli was executed 47 Each of the witnesses described the confiscation of documents and money by Serbian security forces, and that foodstuffs, tractors and other vehicles were set alight at that time. According to F.G., "one started to pour petrol over everything. H. [a villager] had to set fire to these things." Having earlier put six men in a line, the same man who forced H. to set fire to foodstuffs and vehicles then began to call people from the line. F.G. told Human Rights Watch that the man "called the first [person] from the line and beat him, although not badly. The second one-Gazmend [Zeqir Hetemi] was ordered to untie his shoes-they were kicking him. They beat him very badly. The third one was asked to take off his clothes and they kicked him. All of this in front of the women and children."48
A.B who was also present when the beatings occurred, provided a similar account:
Then they separated six men and started to beat them up, one by one in a way that I have never seen before. I remember a young man-who is dead now-one Serb told him to untie his sneakers-he kicked him in the face and another one kicked him above his head. . . . I remember another case. They called him too-three police or paramilitaries tied a machine gun belt around his head in front of his eyes and around his forehead and started to pull the belt. When they told him to go back to the line with his hands up, the blood started to flow from his forehead down his face because his skin was very badly damaged.
Isak Bytqyi was the next person to be shot. The forty-five-year-old Bytyqi had worked as a policeman in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which likely placed him under greater suspicion of involvement in the KLA. According to his cousin, A.B., "three or four Serbs in uniform came. One of them seemed like he was in charge-he was around forty-five and had a moustache. He called for Isak Bytyqi. . . . I heard when [Isak] was told "you are commanding these people." I couldn't hear the rest of the conversation (which went on for about three minutes). They took him in front of a vehicle and I heard gunshots-I couldn't see because I was in the upper part of the field.49 Isak's brother S.B. found his body later the same day. According to S.B., Isak Bytyqi "had been shot in the back of the head, behind the left ear."50
Following Isak Bytyqi's death, Serbian police and paramilitaries took the remaining women, children and elderly down the hill to the lower field, leaving only younger men in the upper field. According to witnesses, H., who had been ordered earlier to burn the vehicles, was again called from the line. He was badly beaten and told that he was going to get "a bullet in the forehead." When he was ordered back to the line, H. escaped into the bushes, despite being pursued by two paramilitaries who fired after him. After questioning the men as to H.'s identity, shots were fired at the other men in the line from lower down the hill, killing Fatmir Bytyqi, Gazmend (Zeqir) Hatemi, and Heset Lekiqi and wounding a fourth man. The other men from the village were then told to run into the woods. According to S.B.: "They told the men who remained there to go deep into the woods. When we started to run, they began to shoot.51 As shots rang out, the men scattered into the woods. A.B. described hearing "firing and branches falling" as he fled, which may have been the result of stray bullets hitting trees. Those who escaped hid in the woods.
At around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. the same day, the survivors returned to the field site, drawn by the cries of women and children and anxious to know what had become of their families. The villagers began to search the woods to retrieve the bodies of those who had been killed. The wounded were carried back and given first aid. In the morning, after a night sheltering under plastic sheeting and in those vehicles that had not been burned, the villagers finished collecting the corpses. In addition to the bodies of fifteen men who had been shot in the field and the woods, the body of seventy-four-year-old Halime Gerbeshi was also discovered. Gerbeshi appears to have been burned to death while she was sheltering under a plastic sheet on a tractor which had been set alight. In order to bury the bodies quickly, it was decided to prepare a large single temporary grave. Some from the villagers, including a local politician, attempted to persuade the villagers otherwise, arguing that it would hamper subsequent investigations of the deaths. The villagers nevertheless dug a single grave and prepared a list of the names and ages of the dead (prepared in triplicate in case one of the persons carrying the list was killed or captured). At around 1:00 p.m. on April 17, the bodies were buried in a simple funeral service.
The Slovinje residents hid in the hills for three more days, before attempting to return to their village. On April 20 or 21, some residents returned to the village. Villagers sheltering in Smolusa were reportedly invited back to the village around the same time by their Serb neighbors. Within days of returning, gunshots and the burning of an Albanian house prompted the Albanian residents of the village to leave for Smolusa, which throughout this period appears to have been safe, if overcrowded. It was not without its victims, however: Latife Kryeziu, a forty-seven-year-old woman who had been wounded in the village on April 15, died of her wounds in Smolusa. The remaining villagers who were sheltering in the hills also made their way to Smolusa, so that by the end of April, most of the surviving Albanian inhabitants of Slovinje (and several other villages) had taken refuge there.
Towards the end of April, some of the villagers were invited by police to return to Slovinje. The primary motivation for this invitation was apparently to arrange the reburial of the eighteen villagers who had been killed by Serbian police and paramilitaries in Slovinje on April 15. According to H.K., the eighteen corpses initially placed in a mass grave were dug up by Serbian soldiers and taken to the school in Slovinje.52 The Albanian villagers were instructed by police to visit the school to identify and arrange for reburial of their relatives. The official logic of such an action was presumably to mask the circumstances of the deaths, albeit one complicated by the involvement of the dead villagers' relatives. According to Z.G., the bodies were dug up following the visit of "a doctor from Belgrade."53 Several witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch participated in the reburials, which took place at the end of April.
Almost as soon as the burials had taken place, the villagers were given an order to leave the village. According to S.B., Serbian forces gave the following ultimatum: "Everyone must leave. If we find anyone here after 6:00 p.m. we're going to kill them."54 Those villagers who had returned left again for Smolusa, Gadimlje, and Glogovac (Lipljan). Several of the persons interviewed by Human Rights Watch boarded overcrowded trains to the Macedonian border outside Lipljan, eventually ending up in refugee camps in Macedonia. Most of the village did not return until the withdrawal of Serbian forces and the entry of KFOR in June.
In late May, the seventeen bodies temporarily buried in a single grave in the Dell of Deme were removed.55 According to unconfirmed reports, the bodies were removed with a bulldozer by Serbian security forces and loaded onto a truck on May 25. None of the villagers interviewed by Human Rights Watch had seen the bodies being bulldozed or loaded onto a truck, although one villager did reportedly witness the exhumation. During a visit to the gravesite on July 23, Human Rights Watch observed that the earth had been disturbed and found clothing fragments that supported the villagers' accounts. Reports of exhumations by Serbian forces to conceal the evidence of murders elsewhere in Kosovo also lend support to the account. What is certain is that the bodies of seventeen residents of Slovinje once buried in the Dell of Deme are missing, and that the anguish it has caused their relatives is real.
Most of Slovinje's Albanian inhabitants did not return until Serbian security forces withdraw in mid-June following KFOR's entry into Kosovo on June 12. Some elderly residents sheltering in nearby villages did attempt to return earlier however, with tragic consequences. On June 3, S.S. and his forty-five-year-old brother Shefki returned to Slovinje. Early in the morning the two men were stopped by unknown paramilitaries in the village and taken to the local school, where they were detained for several hours. While under detention they were questioned and beaten repeatedly by the paramilitaries and several soldiers. The two brothers were accused of being NATO informants and asked about the location of a satellite telephone they allegedly possessed. Their denials were met by beatings. Shefki, who suffered from a kidney ailment, was beaten so badly that he died an hour after his release.
S.S. described their detention to Human Rights Watch:
They [paramilitaries] stopped us, checked our pockets and checked us for weapons. They tied our hands and forced us to get in the car and took us to the school. We were teachers and the Serbs [from the village] told them we were spies. Then they began asking us about the telephone, saying "call NATO to help you." Then they started to torture us. There were five people-three paramilitaries and two soldiers . . . My brother and I were in the same place and got beaten at the same time. Two officers-paramilitaries-were asking the questions. After they left, the three others came and we were beaten by them. . . . They questioned us six times and beat us on six occasions. The questioning was longer [than the beating. We were questioned for] about twenty minutes each time. . . . The three of them all beat us at the same time.56
The two men were detained until around 11:45 a.m., when it apparently became clear that Shefki was close to death as a result of his beatings. According to S.S. "When they saw my brother was dying, they said `Leave now! Go! Go away!'"57 The brothers then left the school on foot and headed towards their home in the village. S.S. continued, "we were walking on the road when my brother died. I went to the neighbor's and told them what happened. We took his body into a neighbors garden. He died an hour after [we were released]-we were walking very slowly toward my house. It was 12:30 p.m. when he died-it took us an hour to walk [from the school]."58 When asked the cause of Shefki's death, S.S. replied, " My brother died because they beat him so much in the kidneys."59
Shefki collapsed and died outside the home of P.F. As a result, P.F. was the first person other than S.S. to see Shefki's body. He told Human Rights Watch that on June 3 at around 1:00 or 2:00 p.m., "I was in this [location of interview] house with my daughter and I saw S. in my garden, yelling `Oh my God they killed my brother.' I took some wood and a small wagon and went to the place [where the body lay]. I took the body and went to the village cemetery where my brother was and buried the body there. . . . S. stayed here because he was wounded."60 When asked to describe the condition of the body P.F. stated "when I saw the body it had some wounds. [There were] bruises on the side of the cheek and on the side of the his body. I could see bruises all over his body-on his legs. There was no blood."61
Several days later P.F. himself was detained in the school, following the killing of a policeman. During his detention, he was pressured into making a false confession that he had killed the man he helped to bury. According to P.F.:
The military came and took me to the school at around 11:00 a.m. They were wearing long boots, uniforms and bullet proof vests. They asked me who killed Shefki. I answered "the police and the military." In the end, I had to admit that I killed him, even though I didn't [kill him]. They wanted to scare me. They took their knives [out] . . . [One of them] threatened me, saying "I will kill your brother and your daughter if you don't show where in the mountains the people are [hiding]." I said "I don't know anything."62
P.F. was also questioned about the KLA. He alleges that two Serb civilians from the village were present at the school during his detention, and that his head was pushed against a wall although he was not beaten. Human Rights Watch observed a cut on P.F.'s head that was consistent with the latter allegation. Although the soldiers who questioned him managed to force P.F. to admit that he had killed Shefki, they were unable to get him to sign a confession before police arrived at the school and ordered P.F. released.
S.S. was taken to the hills by a KLA doctor for treatment, returning the following day. Almost three weeks after his beating, Human Rights Watch saw faded bruising and skin damage all over S.S.'s body consistent with his account of the beating. The remainder of his family returned to the village unharmed on June 9.63
Witnesses from Slovinje describe three kinds of forces active in the village and surrounding areas between April and June-police, military, and paramilitary.64 The military appear to have played a much less active role in the expulsion and murder of civilians than police and paramilitaries. By contrast the police and paramilitaries are frequently implicated by witnesses. There is some confusion among witnesses between police and paramilitaries, possibly related to the allegation that local Serbs from Slovinje put on police uniforms to participate in the violence.
As always, identification of perpetrators proved difficult for witnesses. Nine Serbs from Slovinje were named by various witnesses as participants in killings, forcible expulsion and arson in the village, but Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm their participation. Several police officers were named by multiple witnesses from Slovinje, however. Mr. Tosic (first name unknown), a police commander from Lipljan, was identified by four witnesses as present in Slovinje during the atrocities on April 16 and 17. Although individual witnesses from Slovinje and the village of Toplicane allege that Tosic was variously involved in acts of arson and ordering civilians to leave Slovinje, another witness, D.N. who described Tosic as "a person in charge," told Human Rights Watch that he had intervened to save her husband from execution by paramilitaries on April 16.65 Milivoje Pejic, the deputy police chief in Janjevo, was named by four witnesses as a commander in Slovinje at the time of the April 16 killings. A third police officer from Slovinje, identified as "Tomce, the son of Milic," was named by two witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch as present in the village in April and May.