Today Human Rights Watch reported that Serb forces massacred an extended family of eighteen ethnic Albanian civilians, including five children, in a forest in the Drenica region of Kosovo on September 26.
The massacre was clearly an attack on defenseless civilians who were hiding in the woods," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "The Yugoslav Army and Serbian Police are fighting a war against civilians, and this is another sad example of the unspeakable atrocities being committed against them."
The Drenica region of Kosovo was considered a stronghold of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), and was the sight of similar civilian massacres in February and March 1998. Human Rights Watch has seen credible evidence of similar atrocities, including the recent summary execution of thirteen men, in nearby villages.
Like thousands of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, the Deliaj family had sought refuge in the forest after their village, Donja Obrinja, was shelled during the recent Serbian offensive. Human Rights Watch saw seven bodies located approximately 1 kilometer outside Donja Obrinja in a forested area; eleven other bodies had been carried out of the massacre site and were in the process of being buried by local villagers and other family members. The corpses of five women and two children, aged five and seven, were lying in a narrow gully near a makeshift tent where villagers said the Deliaj family had sought refuge from the shelling. All of the victims had been shot in the head at close range, apparently while attempting to flee the attack. The bodies of several of the victims displayed clear evidence of mutilation.
Luljeta Deliaj, aged twenty-eight, was two months pregnant according to family members; her belly had been cut open. According to journalists at the scene, Pajazit Deliaj, aged sixty-five, was found in the makeshift tent with his throat cut open and part of his brain removed and placed next to him. Human Rights Watch later saw photographs of Pajazit Deliaj's corpse that clearly showed that his t hroat had been cut and his brain mutilated.
According to one eyewitness interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the Deliaj family had been living in the forest since September 25. On September 26, at 10:00 a.m., Serbian armed forces entered the forest on foot, according to the witness, who heard shooting and screaming coming from the area of the massacre.
According to the local villagers who were burying the bodies and a count of the graves by Human Rights Watch, a total of sixteen civilians were killed in the forest. At least two other civilians were killed in the nearby village of Donja Obrinja. Several others, including two teenage girls, remain missing.
In another village, Gornja Obrinja, Human Rights Watch found the corpses of three elderly civilians, including a woman and an invalid man, who had all been shot at close range, apparently not in connection with the attack on the Doliaj family. In other villages in the area, freshly dug graves could be observed. In the village of Golubovac, located approximately five kilometers south of Donja Obrinja, Human Rights Watch visited what appeared to be the execution site of fourteen young men, whom villagers said Serbian police had beaten and executed. The site was strewn with approximately eighty spent bullet casings, and Human Rights Watch observed fresh blood stains along the fence where villagers said the men had been executed. One man reportedly survived the execution, and was interviewed by Western diplomats touring the region today.
According to eyewitnesses, police forced approximately two hundred villagers, who had been hiding in the nearby woods to escape shelling in their villages, to return to Golubovac on September 26. The eyewitnesses claimed that the police detained the group of two hundred civilians at a large house, and then selected the fourteen men for execution. One credible eyewitness told Human Rights Watch t hat the men were severely beaten and abused prior to execution.
The southwestern part of Drenica has been the site of a major offensive by the Yugoslav army and Serbian police over the past week. Serbian police forces have systematically burned entire villages in the region. Food supplies have been systematically destroyed. Eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how they were forced to flee their villages when special police forces approac hed, and returned to find their homes burned and food supplies destroyed. The homes and villages inspected by Human Rights Watch often did not show any artillery or small arms marks and the evidence indicates that they were systematically burned while the villages were completely abandoned.
The targeting of civilians in war, summary executions, and the widespread destruction of civilian property constitute war crimes. Since the beginning of the Kosovo conflict in February 1998, the Yugoslav army and Serbian police have been implicated in many serious incidents of abuses against the majority ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo, suggesting a widespread disregard for the most basic pr inciples of the laws of war and international humanitarian law.
Human Rights Watch calls on the Yugoslav authorities to respect its international obligations, and to cease all attacks on civilians and the widespread destruction of civilian objects. Further, Human Rights Watch calls on the Yugoslav authorities to provide immediate access to the area to teams of independent forensic experts to carry out investigations. The international community must take imm ediate steps to end abuses against civilians in Kosovo, and work to bring the perpetrators of war crimes in Kosovo to justice.
The names of the dead at Donja Obrinja are:
1) Ali Deliaj, aged sixty-three;
2) Adem Deliaj, aged thirty-three;
3) Mejhare Deliaj, aged twenty-seven and wife of Adem Deliaj;
4) Valmir Deliaj, aged eighteen months and son of Adem and Mejhare Deliaj;
5) Hamide Deliaj, aged sixty and mother of Adem Deliaj;
6) Have Deliaj, aged sixty-four or sixty-three and aunt of Adem Deliaj;
7) Lumnije Deliaj, aged thirty;
8) Jeton Deliaj, aged eight and son of Lumnije Deliaj;
9) Menduhije Deliaj, aged four and daughter of Lumnije Deliaj;
10) Luljeta Deliaj, aged twenty-eight;
11) Pajazit Deliaj, aged sixty-five;
12) Zeqir Deliaj, aged forty-four;
13) Habib Deliaj, aged fifty-three;
14) Hysen Deliaj, aged fifty-one;
15) Fazli Deliaj, aged ninety-four, invalid found dead in house;
16) Zahide Deliaj, aged twenty-seven;
17) Gentiona Deliaj, aged seven and daughter of Zahide Deliaj;
18) Donietta Deliaj, aged five and daughter of Zahide Deliaj.
Those allegedly executed in Golubovac include:
1) Remzi Veselaj, aged thirty-five, from Iglarevo;
2) Fazli Hoxhaj, aged forty-two, from Golubovac;
3) Selmon Gashi, aged thirty-one, from Plo-ice;
4) Rrustem Maloku, aged forty-two, from Plo-ice;
5) Rasim Maloku, aged thirty-eight, from Plo-ice;
6) Halim Maloku, aged thirty-seven, from Plo-ice;
7) Muhamet Maloku, aged thirty-five, from Plo-ice;
8) Ahmet Maloku, aged between forty-five and fifty, from Plo-ice;
9) Zeqir Berisha, aged forty, from Gjurgjevik;
10) Aziz Maloku, aged forty-five, from Plo-ice.
Three others allegedly executed in Golubovac were unidentified.