Serbian police forces attacked a convoy of civilian vehicles and tractors on Tuesday after detaining civilians who had fled their village.
Serbian police detained several hundred men during the attack on the convoy in Vranic. The men were then transported to the city of Prizren, where they were ill-treated in detention, according to some who were later released. Meanwhile, police burned large parts of the village of Vranic, and the shelling and burning of villages around Urosedac continued today, Human Rights Watch said.
"The Yugoslav authorities are carrying out an unrestrained campaign of terror against a civilian population," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch. "The atrocities committed by the Serbian police and the Yugoslav army are at the core of the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo and must be stopped immediately."
Two of the four men killed were found on a hill overlooking the convoy site in Vranic and appeared to have been shot from a distance, possibly by sniper fire. Another two bodies were taken to the local mosque for burial by villagers. Miliam Bugari, age twenty-nine, had burn marks on his head that suggested he was executed at close range. Hafir Elshani, age thirty-five, was shot in the chest and his nose had been cut off.
In Vranic, Human Rights Watch saw what remained of a convoy that stretched for approximately three kilometers. Cars, tractors and trucks were loaded with civilian possessions. A Human Rights Watch eyewitness counted thirty-four vehicles in the village that had been completely destroyed and another fifty-five vehicles that had been damaged to a lesser extent. In a river valley near Vranic, Human Rights Watch saw another 145 vehicles, about half of which were destroyed or severely damaged. The possessions of civilians were strewn around the site. Many of the vehicles had been burned.
According to eyewitnesses, the inhabitants of Vranic decided to evacuate their village on Sunday morning, September 27, after government forces began shelling the nearby villages of Bukosi and Budakovo and then began approaching the village of Vranic, where many persons from the region had sought refuge over the past two months. The civilians fled into the nearby forest above Vranic, where they spent Sunday night.
Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that the convoy was approached by an elderly man Monday morning who conveyed a message from the police that it was safe for them to return home. The convoy began returning to Vranic, but the first part of the convoy was stopped by police in the center of the village. Police then began screening all the civilians in the convoy. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that women and children were detained in a school compound in Vranic while the men were separated into two groups, one detained in a large house in Vranic and another taken to a school in nearby Bukosi. While the civilians were kept in detention, police started to burn houses in Vranic and destroy many of the cars in the convoy.
According to eyewitnesses, the estimated 250 to 300 men detained in the house in Vranic were transferred to a fire station adjoining the police station in Prizren on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning. Most were returned by police to Vranic around 3:00 p.m. today while Human Rights Watch was on the scene. The men detained in Bukosi were also released.
The men who were returned from custody in Prizren told Human Rights Watch that they had been beaten by police with fists and rubber batons. They showed injuries that were consistent with their accounts, including swollen hands and bruises on the body. They also reported that they had not received any food or water since being detained. According to the released persons, approximately fifty people from the Vranic convoy remain in detention in Prizren.
While approaching the town of Vranic, Human Rights Watch saw the village of Budakovo burning in the background. According to local villagers and international monitors interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Budakovo was shelled on the morning of September 30 before police moved in to burn homes in the town.
Also on September 30, members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hit a landmine on a road outside of Libovac, injuring three ICRC staff and killing an ethnic Albanian doctor, Dr. Shpetim Robaj. Several other anti-tank mines were removed today from the area, which was also the location of two earlier mine explosions, one involving the Canadian-Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission (KDOM) team and one that killed five Serbian policemen. Human Rights Watch called upon all parties to the conflict to refrain from the use of land mines.
Human Rights Watch urges the government of Yugoslavia to end all attacks on civilians immediately and to stop the widespread destruction of civilian property. In light of widespread and continuing evidence of torture and physical abuse in detention and at least five documented deaths in police custody in the past two months due to physical abuse, Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned about the treatment of those from Vranic who are currently detained in Prizren and calls upon the government of Yugoslavia to treat persons in custody humanely. Human Rights Watch also calls upon the government of Yugoslavia to allow international monitors such as the ICRC and human rights groups to have immediate and unconditional access to all detainees to monitor their treatment is custody.