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Abuses by the KLA

The rules of internal armed conflict, outlined in Common Article 3 and Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions, are binding on both governments and armed insurgencies. As such, the KLA is legally obliged to respect the provisions of international humanitarian law, such as the protection of noncombatants and the prohibition of hostage taking. (See section on Legal Standards and the Kosovo Conflict.)

Despite these obligations, the KLA has committed violations of international humanitarian law, including the taking of hostages and, by their own apparent admission, summary executions (see below). Over one hundred people, mostly ethnic Serbs (but also some ethnic Albanians and Roma) are feared abducted by the KLA.

Some KLA operations were apparently intended to drive ethnic Serbs out of their villages. Human Rights Watch heard credible reports of ethnic Serbs being forced to leave the villages of Jelovac, Kijevo, Leocina, Gorni Ratiš, Maznik, Dašinovac, Veliki Djurdjevak, Mlecane, Dubrava, Boksic, and Lugodjija. In a number of cases, elderly Serbs refused to leave, either too old to flee or unwilling to abandon their homes. Some of these people are currently missing and feared dead (see below).

The KLA has attacked and seized some ethnic Albanians and Roma who it considers “collaborators” with the Yugoslav government. According to the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs, from January to May 1998, the KLA attacked twenty-eight ethnic Albanians, killing four and injuring five.120

Spokesmen for the KLA have repeatedly stressed the KLA’s willingness to respect the rules of war, although their statements raise doubts about their interpretation of these norms. The prohibition on summary executions appears to be misunderstood, particularly in the case of ethnic Albanians suspected of collaboration with government forces, and Serbian civilians considered a part of the local security apparatus.

In an interview given to the Albanian-language newspaper Koha Ditore on July 11, 1998, KLA spokesman Jakup Krasniqi said:

[T]he KLA has never dealt with civilians, or only if they have been in the service of the army and the police and have done serious harm to the people and the Albanian national cause. There have been cases in which they have been kidnaped, but in this event they have been handed over to international organizations, of course when they have been innocent.

First of all, all Serbian forces, whether the police, the military, or armed civilians, are our enemy. From the start, we had our own internal rules for our operations. These clearly lay down that the KLA recognizes the Geneva Conventions and the conventions governing the conduct of war, even though it has not been offered the chance of signing them, as it would have done. We do not go in for kidnaping. Even if some people have suffered, these have been more Albanian collaborators than Serbian civilians. We do not deal with civilians, and we return those whom we take as prisoners of war. A few days ago we handed over two Serbs originating from Croatia to the International Red Cross. Those we have kidnaped are either announced in a list or reported to be executed, but we do not behave in a base fashion like Serbia.121

Shaban Shala, a KLA commander who used to be an activist with the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms in Glogovac, said that the KLA General Headquarters would not order human rights abuses, but that some fighters may “make mistakes”:

I say this with complete responsibility—the KLA is called as such because it really is a liberation army. It is not engaged in conflict to harm others. It never made any attempts to usurp property, to destroy property that belongs to others; it did not abduct or massacre innocent children, women, or elderly. We are at war with the Serbian police and military forces, as well as other Serb paramilitary formations. We are not at war with civilians, innocent people, with children and the handicapped. I can add in this context that the KLA General Headquarters has not and will not issue an order to pursue, kill, or massacre innocent people, or loot or destroy Serbian property. However, not everything can be controlled during a war. There are cases when individuals make mistakes, but such cases are punished by the KLA, even if its soldiers conducted them.122

More recently, the KLA’s newly-appointed political representative, Adem Demaqi,123 told Radio B92 from Belgrade:

When I talked to certain people from the headquarters, I saw that there was a united view on one thing: we do not deal in kidnapings. If some groups do it on their own, and if we have influence on them, we always intervene and kidnaped persons are released.124

On September 9, the police announced that they had found the bodies of people they claimed had been killed by the KLA near Glodjane in a canal near Lake Radonjic. By September 16, they had gathered thirty-four bodies, eleven of whom were identified, including some ethnic Albanians. As of September 23, the identification process was ongoing.125

The most serious allegation made against the KLA prior to the September 9 announcement was the Yugoslav government’s accusation that in the village of Klecka the KLA had executed twenty-two civilians, including women and children, and burned the bodies. The police claimed to have discovered human remains and a kiln used to cremate the bodies when they recaptured Klecka from the KLA around August 28. The details of the execution-style killings were provided by two ethnic Albanians who the Yugoslav authorities said were KLA fighters. One of them, Bekim Mazreku, was presented to foreign reporters while in police custody and then questioned by Danica Marinkovic,126 an investigating judge from Priština who has been involved in a number of political trials in which ethnic Albanians were tortured. Mazreku was not allowed to speak independently to the journalists.127 According to the New York Times, “one man, whose videotaped interrogation was made available to the New York Times today, gave accounts that did not make sense and which the police say they cannot corroborate.”128

KLA spokesmen rejected the charges, saying that the KLA, “has not killed a single Serb civilian.”129 The two ethnic Albanians presented by the police and interviewed by Danica Marinkovic were not members of the KLA, they claimed.

As of September 1, 1998, Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm the charges about Klecka. The manner in which the allegations were made raise serious questions about their validity and underline the importance of an investigation by an impartial forensics team.

Abductions of Ethnic Serbs by the KLA

The precise number of people held by the KLA is difficult to determine since the KLA does not provide public information on those in its custody, and a number of people have been held hostage and then released. Estimates of human rights and humanitarian organizations working on the ground range from one hundred to 140. According to the International Committee for the Red Cross, 138 ethnic Serbs are believed to have been taken by the KLA.

The Humanitarian Law Center, which has been monitoring detentions and abductions by the police and the KLA, has documented 103 ethnic Serbs who were unaccounted for as of August 1998, thirty-nine of whom were last seen in KLA custody. The center also documented the cases of three ethnic Albanians abducted by the KLA, ostensibly because they were considered “collaborators” with the Yugoslav government, whose whereabouts are currently unknown.130

According to a statement from the Yugoslav Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued on August 31, 1998, Albanian “terrorists” had abducted 178 individuals in Kosovo, including 128 ethnic Serbs and Montenegrins, forty-two ethnic Albanians, and six ethnic Roma. Out of this group, thirty-nine were released, seven escaped, and sixteen had been killed, leaving 114 people still in KLA detention.131

Below are some specific cases:

Abductions in Orahovac

On July 19, the KLA began its first major attack on a larger city: Orahovac. An estimated eighty-five ethnic Serbs were taken into custody by the KLA, although thirty-five of them were subsequently released. As of August 1998, at least forty people were still unaccounted for.

During the attack, approximately thirty elderly Serbs took shelter in the Monastery of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Zociste village together with seven monks and one nun. According to the Serbian Orthodox Church, the monastery was attacked for forty-five minutes with light artillery and machine guns and the guest house was damaged by two grenades.132 Local Serbs told the Humanitarian Law Center, however, that the monks had resisted for two hours with four rifles before they realized a defense was futile and surrendered.133 Everyone inside the monastery was taken to a school in nearby Semetište.

According to the ICRC and numerous media sources, the KLA handed thirty-five of these people over to the ICRC unharmed on July 22, including the seven Orthodox monks, one nun and twenty-five elderly people.134 According to the Humanitarian Law Center, another ten people detained in the Orahovac offensive were released on the night of July 29-30, including Slavka, Snezana, and Ninoslav Baljoševic.135

The fate of an estimated forty other people taken from the Orahovac area, however, remains unknown. They include: Tomislav Baljoševic and his son Saša, Duško Dolasevic, Srdjan and Srecko Vitosevic, Djordje Djoric, Duško Djonovic, Sinisa Lukic, Veselin Lazic, Dusko Patranogic, Predrag Djurdjic, Jovan Vasic and Rajko Nikolic, plus five members of the Bozanic family: Mladen, Nemanja, Tihomir, Novica and Boško, and eight members of the Kostic family: Lazar, Todor, Saska, Miroljub, Vekoslav, Srecko, Svetomir, and Vitko. There are also reports of seventeen other people abducted by the KLA from the village of Retimlje near Orahovac.

Jovan Lukic

According to Tanjug and the Humanitarian Law Center, Jovan Lukic was detained by a group of armed Albanians while driving near Orahovac. Tanjug reported that Lukic was detained on July 19 along with Veselin Lazic, but the center mentions only Lukic being detained on July 17.136

Lukic told the center that he was held in Mališevo with a group of prisoners, including Srdjan and Srecko Vitoševic, a Roma man named Azem with his wife and daughter, a man named Duško from Orahovac, a man named Toma and his son, two doctors from Orahovac, and a doctor from Velika Hoca. The male detainees, he said, were taken out in small groups by a van that returned empty. Lukic was eventually taken in the van with some others, their hands tied, to a place in the woods. He succeeded in freeing his hands, however, and after struggling with one of the armed Albanians, managed to escape. He told the center that he does not know what happened to the other prisoners.

Ratko and Branko Staletic

The police found the bodies of Ratko Staletic and his son Branko on July 30 near Orlate village on the Priština-Pec road, according to the Humanitarian Law Center. The two residents of Mlecane village had reportedly been taken by ethnic Albanians in military uniforms on June 20, 1998.137

Vojko and Ivan Bakrac

Vojko and Ivan Bakrac, two ethnic Serb refugees from Croatia, and two other ethnic Serbs were taken off a bus on the Prizren-Štimlje road by armed ethnic Albanians on June 29. Vojko and Ivan Bakrac were on their way to the UNHCR offices in Priština, because they had been accepted in a United States resettlement program for ethnic Serb refugees in Kosovo.138 According to the Humanitarian Law Center, they were released on July 8 or 9, although the two other Serbs, whose identities are unknown, remain unaccounted for.139

Ten Employees of the Belacavac Mine

On June 22, the KLA took control of the Belacavac mine, a large coal mine near the town of Obilic. The police recaptured the mine a few days later. The KLA reportedly captured nine ethnic Serbs in Obilic on July 22 as they were on their way to work at the mine; they were Dušan Andjancic, Pero Andjancic, Zoran Andjancic, Mirko Buha, Filip Gojkovic, Bozidar Lempic, Srboljub Savic, Mirko Trifunovic and Dragan Vukmirovic. None of them has been heard from since. The Times of London cites a senior Serbian policeman as saying that negotiations between the police and the KLA over the nine workers had “broken down” before the police retook control of the mine. A local miner, Nebojsa Jankovic was reportedly told that his nine colleagues had been “executed,” but this could not be confirmed.140

Oliver Zalic

On June 22, the New York Times reported the death of Oliver Zalic, an ethnic Serb from Bica village who, according to his family, was killed by ethnic Albanians in front of his house while defending his sister and mother.141

Milosav, Sultana, Radomir, Aleksandra, and Dostana Šmigic

By May 1998, most ethnic Serbs in Leocina had left their homes after threats from local Albanians. Five members of the Šmigic family, however, four of them over seventy years old, decided not to leave their village. One of them, Krstiva Šmigic, told the Humanitarian Law Center that ethnic Albanians in military uniforms entered their yard around 10 a.m. on July 9. She managed to escape but Milosav (75), Sultana (72), Radomir (54), Aleksandra (c. 75), and Dostana (42) have not been heard from since:

Us three women [Sultana, Aleksandra and Dostana] left the house and went into the fields. After a while, Sultana and Lenka said they wanted to go back. Sultana went to her husband, and me and Lenka went back to her house, to Radomir. But about thirty of them [ethnic Albanians] were going into the yard and, when they saw us, they came toward us. They were armed, some in uniform and some in civilian clothes. Ten of them went into Radomir’s house. They found him upstairs. We heard screams and Lenka rushed upstairs. I stayed below. I heard terrible screams and moaning from above. I couldn’t bear it any more and went out again. I heard three rifle shots before I got into some high grass.142

Krstiva said she saw Milosav’s house in flames from her hiding spot. After two days, she made it to the town of Rudnik, where she reported the incident to the police. On May 19, Krstiva Šmigic’s daughter, Dostana, went back to Leocina to get her mother and three relatives. She was then abducted, reportedly in Ozrim, and has not been heard from since.143

Zivorad Spasic

Zivorad Spasic, a driver for the Mitrovica power plant, was last seen on May 10, 1998. His father, from a village near Obilic, asked the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Democratic League of Kosovo for help in finding his son.

Slobodan, Milica and Miloš Radoševic

Slobodan (64), Milica (59), and Miloš (60) Radoševic were the only ethnic Serbs to stay behind in Dašinovac village when the KLA took control on April 22. On September 16, the police announced that the bodies of Miloš and Slobodan Radoševic had been found in a canal that feeds into Lake Radonic near Glodjane.

According to the Humanitarian Law Center and Amnesty International, Rosa Radoševic tried to go back to Dašinovac the next day with her son Staniša to look for her husband Slobodan. They were stopped in Pozar village at a KLA checkpoint and taken to KLA headquarters in Glodjane, where Staniša was reportedly beaten.144

Dara and Vukosava Vujoševic, Milka, and Milovan Vlahovic

According to both the Humanitarian Law Center and Amnesty International, most ethnic Serbs fled their homes in Gornji Ratiš on April 21 when the KLA took control of the village. Dara (69) and Vukosava (65) Vujoševic and Milka (62) and Milovan (60) Vlahovic decided to stay and their whereabouts are currently unknown.145

Abductions of Roma by the KLA

According to the Humanitarian Law Center and the newspaper Blic, Gurim Bejta and Agron Beriša, both Roma, and Ivan Zaric, an ethnic Serb, left Dolac on May 20 for the village of Grabanica. As of August 1998, their whereabouts were still unknown.146

Human Rights Watch heard unconfirmed reports that four armed ethnic Albanians dragged Ramadan Uka and his wife, both Roma, from their homes in Budisavci near Pec at the end of March 1998. According to a center researcher who spoke with Mr. Uka, the Albanians, whom Ramadan knew, beat him and raped his wife, but his story could not be confirmed.147

Abductions of Ethnic Albanians by the KLA

Since the intensification of it activities in 1996, the KLA has targeted ethnic Albanians it considers “collaborators” with the Yugoslav government.

According to the Serbian Orthodox Monastery at Visoki Decani near Decan, two elderly ethnic Albanians, Hajdar Kuci and Beki Cacaj, were killed near the Bistrica river outside of Decan on May 7. The next day, unknown armed individualsattacked a van from the nearby power plant. An ethnic Albanian, Vehbi Mustafa (65), was killed, while four ethnic Serbs, Boško Vlahovic, Esad Muminovic, Miso Mijovic, and Dragan Djurisic were injured.148

According to the pro-government Priština Media Center, the KLA abducted three ethnic Albanians from Donji Godanc on June 26: Agim Ademi, Veselj Ahmeti and Shucrija Zumeri.

As of September 16, forensics experts were still conducting investigations on the thirty-two bodies found near Lake Radonjic. Two ethnic Albanians had been identified: Ilire Frakaj and Jusuf Hoxha.

Restrictions on the Media by the KLA

The KLA has periodically restricted the domestic and international media in Kosovo by denying access to certain areas, detaining and, on a few occasions, physically attacking journalists. On August 21, 1998, an ethnic Serbian journalist with the state-run Radio Priština, Djuro Slavuj, and his driver, Ranko Perinic, went missing near the city of Orahovac, and were feared abducted by the KLA. According to the Radio Priština office, the two left Orahovac for the nearby town of Malisevo in a blue Zastava car, but never arrived.149 As of September 1, 1998, their whereabouts were still unknown.

On August 26, the KLA’s newly appointed political representative, Adem Demaqi, said that he would try to secure the journalists’ release, although he didn’t know if the group that abducted the journalists was under the control of “KLA headquarters.”150 Six days later, KLA spokesman Jakup Krasniqi said the KLA knows nothing about the journalists’ abduction. In an interview with the Albanian-language Koha Ditore, he said:

We know nothing about the arrest or the kidnaping of any Serb resident or journalist. The KLA did not pick up weapons to fight Serb residents or journalists, but to fight against Serb terrorists and soldiers, that turned Kosova into a burnt land. After all this terror and destruction seen in Kosova, it is impossible to control the feelings of hate and revenge that have been planted by the enemy itself, despite our insistence that the Albanian war does not take the features of the barbarous war conducted by the enemy.151

In July, three Russian journalists were reportedly detained by members of the KLA. According to Reporters San Frontieres, on July 18, Sergei Mitim from the newspaper Izvestia was detained and reportedly beaten by members of a KLA patrol on the Glogovac-Srbica road. He was released after several hours, but his film and rented car were taken.152 On July 20, Oleg Safiulin and Oleg Galanov, with the TV program Vesti, were reportedly interrogated for several hours by the KLA and then released.153

On August 14, freelance journalist Stacy Sullivan was in Glodjane interviewing ethnic Albanian civilians with two KLA escorts present. According to Sullivan, another KLA member drove up and demanded she stop. He grabbed her notebook and burned some pages that contained interviews of ethnic Albanian refugees she had taken over the past three days. Later, this KLA member and her two escorts drove to the regional command headquarters near Vranoc. The commander in charge apologizedto Sullivan for the soldier’s actions and said that he had stripped the soldier of his weapons, although whether this happened could not be confirmed.154

Restrictions on Humanitarian Aid Workers

On July 23, 1998, KLA fighters at a checkpoint in Lodja near Pec confiscated a vehicle belonging to Medecins Sans Frontieres, but the vehicle was returned some days later.155

In early September 1998, a KLA checkpoint turned back a UNHCR convoy for the first time. According to UNHCR, a convoy with five tons of ready-to-eat meals was blocked while heading to the village of Golubach. UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said that KLA soldiers blocked the convoy because of shelling, which could be heard a short distance away. But the rebels also suggested that the UNHCR convoy leader and driver were spies.156

According to diplomatic sources, the KLA turned back a truck at an undisclosed location with five tons of food from the World Food Program on September 7, 1998, because the driver of the truck was an ethnic Serb.

120 “Terrorism in Kosmet in Numbers and Pictures,” taken from the website of the Serbian Secretary of Information (

121 “Spokesman Explains Structure of Rebel Army,” BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, from Koha Ditore in Albanian, July 12, 1998, and “Koha Ditore Interview with Jakup Krasniqi, KLA Spokesman - Part II,” Arta, July 12, 1998.

122 “Koha Ditore Interview with KLA Commander,” Arta, July 25, 1998.

123 Demaqi resigned from his position as the KLA’s political representative on September 21, 1998.

124 “Demaqi Will Contact Main Headquarters of KLA,” Radio B92, August 26, 1998.

125 Among those identified were: Ilire Frakaj, Jusuf Hoxha, Milos Radunovic and Slobodan Radosevic.

126 See, for example, the case of Destan Rukiqi in the section on Detentions and Arrests and “Persecution Persist: Human Rights Violations in Kosovo,” Human Rights Watch/Helsinki report, December 1996.

127 Reuters, August 29, 1998.

128 Mike O’Connor, “Rebel Terror Forcing Minority Serbs Out of Kosovo, The New York Times, August 30, 1998.

129 Agence France Press, August 30, 1998.

130 Humanitarian Law Center, “Kosovo - Disappearances in Times of Armed Conflict,” Spotlight Report No. 27, August 5, 1998.

131 Statement Yugoslav Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Belgrade, August 31, 1998.

132 Press Release of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren, July 22, 1998.

133 Humanitarian Law Center, “Kosovo - Disappearances in Times of Armed Conflict,” Spotlight Report No. 27, August 5, 1998.

134 “Federal Republic of Yugoslavia/Kosovo: ICRC Aid for Conflict Victims,” ICRC News 98/30, July 29, 1998, and “Kidnaped Serbs Released,” AFP, July 22, 1998.

135 Humanitarian Law Center, “Kosovo - Disappearances in Times of Armed Conflict.”

136 “Terrorist Abduct Two Serbs,” Tanjug, July 20, 1998, and Humanitarian Law Center, “Kosovo - Disappearances in Times of Armed Conflict.”

137 Humanitarian Law Center, “Kosovo - Disappearances in Times of Armed Conflict.”

138 Human Rights Watch interview with UNHCR, Brussels, June 15, 1998.

139 Humanitarian Law Center, “Kosovo - Disappearances in Times of Armed Conflict.”

140 Tom Walker, “Guerrillas in Kosovo ‘Killed Mine Hostages’,” Times (London), July 2, 1998.

141 Mike O’Connor, “Kosovo Rebels’ New Tactic: Attack Serb Civilians,” the New York Times, June 24, 1998.

142 Humanitarian Law Center, “Kosovo - Disappearances in Times of Armed Conflict.”

143 See Mike O’Connor, “Rebel Terror Forcing Minority Serbs Out of Kosovo,” the New York Times, August 30, 1998, and Blic newspaper, May 21, 1998.

144 Amnesty International, “Human Rights Violations Against Women in Kosovo Province,” and Humanitarian Law Center, “Kosovo - Disappearances in Times of Armed Conflict.”

145 “Human Rights Violations Against Women in Kosovo Province,” A Human Rights Crisis in Kosovo Province, Document Series B #1, Amnesty International, August 1998, and Humanitarian Law Center, “Kosovo - Disappearances in Times of Armed Conflict.”

146 Blic newspaper, May 21, 1991, and Humanitarian Law Center, “Kosovo - Disappearances in Times of Armed Conflict.”

147 Human Rights Watch interview with Humanitarian Law Center researcher, Priština, May 21, 1998.

148 Press Release of the Brotherhood of the Serbian Orthodox Monastery at Visoki Decani, May 9, 1998, Decan. The Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms also reported on Mustafa’s death, but implied that he had been shot by police or the military. “Another Albanian Killed in Deçan,” Press Release of the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, May 8, 1998.

149 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with editor at Radio Priština, August 26, 1998.

150 “Demaqi Will Contact Main Headquarters of UCK,” Radio B92, August 26, 1998.

151 Koha Ditore, September 1, 1998.

152 IFEX Action Alert, July 21, 1998.

153 “Two Russian Journalists Taken Hostage by Albanian Militants,” Itar-Tass, July 21, 1998.

154 Human Rights Watch interview with Stacy Sullivan, New York, September 3, 1998.

155 “Kosovo Rebels Confiscate an MSF Vehicle,” Agence France Presse, July 24, 1998.

156 Wendy Lubetkin, “UN Appeals for Funds to Avert Catastrophe in Kosovo this Winter,” September 8, 1998, USIA European Correspondent.

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