One of the first regions to be hit by Serbian and Yugoslav government attacks after the NATO bombing was a series of villages along a ten kilometer stretch of road between Prizren and Djakovica. From Bela Crkva and Zrze in the north to Pirane in the south, government forces, mostly army units, systematically shelled the area before special ground forces moved in to the villages. Sometimes with the help of local Serbs from the area, men of fighting age were separated from women and children. Between March 24 and 26, police and paramilitary forces, without any reported defense by the KLA, executed hundreds of men. The killings at Bela Crkva and Velika Krusa are among the six incidents listed in the ICTY's initial indictment of Slobodan Milosevic and the four other top government officials.
The intensity of the violence in this area had a number of causes. First, the government clearly wanted to clear the border region with Albania at the start of the campaign. Control of the border was necessary to minimize infiltration from Albania by the KLA, to prepare for a possible NATO ground invasion, and to facilitate the "ethnic cleansing" of Albanians from other parts of Kosovo. The border areas were cleared, which then made it easier to deport Albanians from Pec, Suva Reka, the Drenica region, and other parts of the province. Control of the Prizren-Djakovica road for troop movement and supplies was clearly a strategic priority for the government.
Second, many of the villages under attack, such as Velika Krusa, were well known for their ongoing support for and presence of the KLA throughout 1998 and 1999. Nearby Retimlje (Reti) was a fortified KLA base. Arms were most likely flowing through these villages from Albania since 1998, and the KLA was seen frequently in and around the area, sometimes attacking police on the main road.
One final motivation may have been the wealth of the region. This south-western part of Kosovo had the province's most fertile land, and the area was known for its relatively wealthy residents, which may have attracted paramilitaries interested in looting and theft.
One important incident along the road around Djakovica, detailed in the chapter The NATO Air Campaign, was NATO's bombing of a civilian convoy. On April 14, NATO aircraft repeatedly bombed refugees over a twelve-mile stretch of road between Djakovica and Decani, injuring thirty-six and killing seventy-three civilians around the villages of Bistrazin, Gradis, Madanaj, and Meja. NATO and U.S. spokespersons initially claimed the target was an exclusively military convoy and that Serb forces may have been responsible for the attacks on civilians. NATO officials later admitted that about a dozen NATO planes had been involved in numerous attacks on the two convoys, dropping a total of nine bombs.
Bela Crkva (Bellacerke)
Serbian police first arrived in Bela Crkva, which had some 3,000 inhabitants, one week before the NATO bombing began. They burned a few houses, shot livestock, and stole some items from private homes, villagers said. According to one villager, a twenty-eight-year-old man named Eqerem Zhuniqi was killed at this time.1
What witnesses believed to have been Serbian special police forces and paramilitary units entered the village again around 3 a.m. on March 25. Witnesses reported a mixture of men in blue and green military uniforms, some of them masked, and many wearing a white ribbon on their sleeves. Immediately, they began stealing cars and valuables like televisions.
At least sixty military-age men, fearful for their lives, fled right away into the nearby hills. Other villagers remained to see what would happen. One woman, N.Z., told Human Rights Watch:
On March 25, the night after NATO started bombing, I was sleeping. At about 3 a.m., my husband woke me up and said, "we have to move, tanks are in the village." I took some clothes I could find and went to the door. As soon as I came to the door, there were tanks maybe ten meters away from us.2
N.Z. stayed in her house with her family for approximately twenty minutes, deciding what to do. Eventually, the tanks withdrew from the center. But around 4:30 a.m., N.Z.'s family saw smoke and flames at the edge of the village. Residents from that part of the village began coming to the center, saying that government forces were setting homes on fire. At this point, N.Z.'s family, and between 300 and 400 other villagers including approximately fifty military-age men, decided it was time to flee.
The area around Bela Crkva is relatively flat, so the group sought shelter in the wooded gully of the Ballaj stream less than one mile from the village. At times they hid in the stream itself, which was only knee deep.
The group first intended to head towards the village of Rogovo. But they heard shots from that direction, and decided to go towards Zrze instead. In the distance, they saw Bela Crkva burning. By 6:00 a.m. it was getting light, but the group decided to stay in the stream bed due to the shooting.
Sometime around 8:00 a.m., the group made its way towards the railroad bridge that crosses the stream. Twelve people from the families of Clirim Zhuniqi and Xhemal Spahiu were about fifty meters ahead of the main group. They were the first ones to encounter the police on the bridge.
N.Z. recounted what happened:
We started walking towards Zrze, not knowing the police were behind the bridge. We walked towards the bridge, which was about twenty meters away. The first family was of a man [Clirim], his wife, and three children. When he saw the police, they surrendered. The people next to us said we should surrender as well. We began to walk, and the police started shooting at us, but no one was wounded. We all lay down.3
Another woman in the group, S.Z., told Human Rights Watch:
There was a stream with bushes that was a hiding place. The village was hiding there. The stream was about up to our knees with water. The Serbs found us-maybe about twenty Serbs-I couldn't count because we couldn't see them all. The said, speaking Serbian, "Everyone, hands up, come out from that hiding place." I didn't understand what they were saying but some of our men understood Serbian and they explained.4
Before the police came to the larger group, the Zhuniqi and Spahiu families members were ordered out of the stream bed into a nearby field. One witness claimed that the men were forced to strip. Another witness said that he saw men in "green uniforms with white bandanas" shoot Clirim, his wife, and their three children, as well as the family of Xhemal Spahiu. He said:
They killed all of them with an automatic gun in a field maybe 500 meters away from their house. I could see it [the killing] very well. It happened only 200-300 meters away from me. I was hiding in the stream near the bridge. I recognized one of the men [shooting], who was from Velika Hoca.5
According to the witnesses, an Albanian doctor from Bela Crkva named Nesim Popaj, aged thirty-six, tried to negotiate with the Serbian commander, pleading with him to spare the lives of the villagers. Popaj allegedly explained that they were not members of the KLA but just villagers who wanted to work in peace. The commander responded by saying: "You're terrorists, bring out your guns."
During this discussion, witnesses said, the commander was stepping down on the neck of Shendet Popaj, the doctor's seventeen-year-old nephew, who was lying prone on the ground. Abruptly ending the discussion, the commander-described by one witnesses as a medium-height man, around thirty-five years old, in a green camouflage uniform with three stars on his shoulders-shot Dr. Popaj with three bullets in front of his wife and three children, after which he killed Shendet. The witness noted specifically that the commander, believed by the witness to be a captain, had a distinguishing feature: a recognizably deformed mouth.
One witness, one of four men to survive the subsequent shooting, told Human Rights Watch:
First they killed the doctor, who was a leader of the village. They killed him with an automatic weapon from about one meter away. The doctor was saying, "please don't kill us, we're villagers who want to work; we're not with the KLA." The Serbs were saying, "you're terrorists; bring out your guns." They said "Where is NATO to save you now?" A captain gave the orders. He killed the doctor himself, while they were debating. The doctor was the most respected man in the village. He had studied in the West: in Sarajevo, Zagreb, and Germany. After they killed the doctor, they immediately killed his nephew. The captain had his foot on the nephew's neck. They shot the nephew in the head.
The captain was normal height [approximately one meter eighty centimeters tall]. He was wearing a helmet. Had three gold stars on his shoulder, no mask. He had a strange, scrunched up mouth. No moustache or beard. He was in his thirties, maybe thirty-five or so.
When the police were separating me from my children, my children were trying to come to me. When they killed the doctor, the doctor's wife and three children were watching; they were about twenty meters away and they saw everything. They were all screaming; the police were trying to keep them away. There was a total of about twenty police.6
The security forces then separated men over the approximate age of fourteen from the women and children. The men were told to undress, in what the villagers thought was an apparent attempt to humiliate them in front of their wives and children. One explanation, however, may have been a police attempt to look for military uniforms underneath the civilian clothes.7 The Serb forces, described by one woman as wearing green uniforms with a white arm band or ribbon on their sleeves, then proceeded to search the mens' clothes and strip them of their identity documents, jewelry, and money, including 40,000 DM from one man, Muharem Zhuniqi. At this point, the women and children were told to walk along the railroad track towards Zrze. The men were ordered to dress and sent back towards the river bed.
The female villagers who were walking along the tracks told Human Rights Watch that, just after departing, they heard a burst of gunfire that lasted several minutes without interruption. N.Z. testified: "When we had walked for maybe ten meters, we heard shots of an automatic gun, three or four minutes without interruption. The women all started to cry, `They killed our husbands!'"
In a separate interview, another woman recalled: "The Serbs directed the group I was in to the village of Zrze. While we were being directed over the bridge, we heard automatic weapons firing for a few minutes. We didn't even dare turn our heads to see what was happening."8
Human Rights Watch spoke with two men who were among those ordered to the river bed. In separate interviews, they testified that the Serbian forces had opened fire on them with automatic weapons. Six men initially survived, but two of these men later died from their wounds.
Human Rights Watch interviewed the first survivor on April 16 in Kukes, a few days after he had entered Albania. At the time, he had bandages on his right shoulder, right arm, and head wounds he said he had sustained during the shooting in Bela Crkva, as well as some shrapnel wounds he sustained later in the head and arm from shelling near the village of Nogavac (Nagafc). A visit to a doctor in Tirana, Albania, later revealed that the man had a bullet lodged in his shoulder.
The man said he was among the first men in the group to be shot. He fell back into the water, he said, and was then covered by the other falling bodies, which saved his life. He told Human Rights Watch:
After killing the doctor and his nephew, they told us to go back down to the stream. Then they immediately started to fire on us. The captain didn't say anything; he just started shooting, and the rest started shooting too. They kept shooting for about five to ten minutes. When they started shooting, I was the first to fall; I was hit by a bullet in my left shoulder. Dead people fell on top of me.
After they stopped firing, they looked around to see who was breathing. I could hear them say, "this one is breathing." They checked to see who was alive and they killed them. I was covered up by bodies.
I stayed like that for about twenty minutes. After ten minutes I heard shooting. They were killing people up the stream. When I got up, I saw dead people all around me. Five others survived, but others later died. Forty-two people were killed.9
Some thirty minutes after the second round of firing, when the witness realized that the Serb forces had moved on, he stood up and saw, in addition to the estimated forty men dead in the river, the dead bodies of seven elderly people from Bela Crkva, as well as two persons unknown to him, lying in a field about a hundred meters away from the stream. He then proceeded to walk towards Zrze, where he told the women from the village what had _happened.
This was corroborated by N.Z., who had been sent to Zrze with the other women. She told Human Rights Watch that one man, the survivor quoted above, came to Zrze. He was silent at first, she said, and then he explained what had happened to the other men. She confirmed that he was wounded in the shoulder.
The husband of N.Z.'s sister-in-law then went back to the river bed with some women to see if there were any other survivors. He brought back five other men, N.Z. said, but two of them subsequently died.
The other survivor interviewed by Human Rights Watch told the same story. He said:
They separated us, and ordered us to walk in the bed of the stream. When we started, they opened fire on us. I fell down, and was covered by five or six dead bodies. I stayed for about one hour in the water, the dead covered me. When I no longer heard any noise, I stood up. I myself was fully covered in blood. I saw five people who were injured. Later, only three of them survived. I was so horrified, that I hid in some bushes. After about one hour, two women, relatives of some of these people, came, and saw the bodies. One of them discovered two of her sons, fifteen and sixteen years old. There were forty-five dead people, who were buried two days later by people from the village.10
Human Rights Watch spoke with four different individuals who saw the dead bodies or then helped with their burial in the field near the stream. One man said, aside from the group of men killed in the stream, he found twelve people from two families-seven children, three women, and two men-near the bridge. He told Human Rights Watch:
After the Serbs left, I went down to the stream with the wife of one of the men to see what had happened to them. I found the bodies, as well as five people who were wounded but still alive . . .
We buried the bodies two days after they were killed. We were too scared to bury them before that. We buried them in a field just near the stream by the bridge. It took two nights to bury them-for safety reasons we worked only at night. The first night, twenty to thirty people worked eight hours to bury them. The second night, about fifteen people spent four hours burying them.11
On July 6, the victims were provided a proper Muslim burial, after they were examined by British forensics experts working for the war crimes tribunal. According to the ICTY, seventy-seven bodies were exhumed from the site.12
On March 25, hours after the NATO bombing began, Serbian and Yugoslav troops moved in on the village of Celina. Some villagers fled into the nearby hills, but hundreds of ethnic Albanians were trapped in the village. Over the next three days, more than sixty-five of them were killed, including twenty-two people from one family who were caught in a small ravine behind their house. ICTY forensic teams exhumed sixty-nine bodies in spring 1999.
Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed three witnesses to the abuses in Celina, each of them in a different place on a different date. Their testimonies are largely consistent with one another, and match press accounts from the village, as well as the human rights report from the OSCE.
All three witnesses, one of them an admitted KLA soldier, claimed they first heard tanks and heavy military vehicles near Celina around 1:00 a.m on March 25. Between 4:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., the village was being shelled.
Fearful for their lives, many men, some of them KLA fighters, fled into the surrounding fields and hills at this time. Women and children, including Albanians from the nearby villages of Opterusa (Opterushe), Zociste (Zozishte), Bela Crkva, Retimlje, Mala Hoca (Hoca e Vogel), and Brestovac (Brestoc), hid in basements and nearby caves. Government security forces entered Celina by 6:00 a.m.
All of Human Rights Watch's witnesses fled Celina on the morning of the 25th, and then returned to see the bodies of those who had been killed. One man claimed that he saw some of the killing while he was hiding near the village on a small hill. Interviewed at length at the Morina border post in Albania, where he was waiting for his family to leave Kosovo, the thirty-year-old man said that he had watched from atop the hill as government forces shelled the Celina mosque and burned the school. A former soldier in the Yugoslav Army (1986-1987), the man claimed that the commander of the forces was an army major because he saw the stars on his shoulder and heard his subordinates calling him "Major." The government troops, however, seemed to be paramilitaries, he said. They were in green camouflage uniforms and had white bandanas on their sleeves.
The women and children of the village, together with the remaining men, were ordered outside their homes, where they were forced to hand over money and jewelry, the witness told Human Rights Watch. Many people were then sent into the basements of their homes, but some women were sent to Zrze.
Later in the day, the security forces left Celina, and the witness entered the village to see what had happened. He went first to his own home, where he saw that his father, two nephews, and two family guests had been killed. He said:
My father was killed by a bullet through the nose. Another guy was killed by a bullet in the head, and the other by a bullet to the stomach. It was my father, two sons of my uncle, and two visitors from Celina and Bela Crkva. One of them had a bullet to the forehead, the other had a bullet in the back of the neck. I thought one of them might be alive, but we went back to hide on the hill.13
The witness stayed in the area over the next four days, walking in the hills around Nogavac and Mala Hoca, and sometimes going back to Celina when it was safe. The Serbian forces set up a local base in the house of Burhan Hasani, he said. During this time, he saw a number of dead bodies in the village, and witnessed some executions from afar.
First, he said, eight people were killed from the Dina family on March 25, although he only saw the bodies from the window of their house after they had been killed. "I just saw their bodies and the blood," he said. Then, on March 26, all of the remaining villagers were gathered in the center of Celina. Approximately fifteen men were separated from the group and forced to take off their shirts. One teenage boy was killed with a knife, he said, and then the rest of the men were killed by automatic gunfire and burned with gasoline. The witness said:
I saw all the men were naked from the waist up. . . . The men were lined up next to a garage. Fifteen or sixteen men. I know them all, only three of them were guests-two from Hoca e Vogel [Mala Hoca] and one from Krusa e Vogel [Mala Krusa.] I saw them take their shirts off on the orders of the police. Then they took their money.
They took one guy from the crowd. First they showed their knife. One of them licked the sharp side of the knife. Then one of them cut his throat. It was a long, black knife about half an arm's length, with a curved blade. The victim was Alban Rexhepi, thirteen years old. Then they killed the rest of the men.
Using a small bucket full of gasoline from a car, they spilled fuel on the bodies. After the police left, I saw two other [ethnic Albanian] guys who witnessed the scene. I knew fourteen of the victims-we were related. All of them were burned. They were killed with automatic guns. One man-tall and bald-gave the order.14
This account was corroborated by an elderly couple from Zrze whose family members died in Celina, as well as by another witness statement given to the press. The elderly couple heard about the killings on March 27 and went to Celina to help with the burial. According to them, seventeen men had been shot and burned. "We saw all the bodies," the wife said. "You could see that they had been executed and then the bodies were burned."15 In a New York Times article written from Albania during the war based on refugee accounts, one man says he saw fifteen people, most of them from the Rexhepi family, burned in Celina. "Their shirts were stripped off," said the fifty-year-old witness, and "gasoline was thrown on them, and they were set on fire."16
Later on March 25, when the security forces were not present, the witness entered the village to look for survivors. At that time, he saw more dead bodies in a field, although he did not remember exactly how many people had been killed at that spot. All together, between March 25 and 27, the witness claimed to have seen seventy-two dead persons in Celina, primarily from three families (two Albanian and one Roma): the family of Mytar Zeqiri, the family of Elki Zeqiri, and the family of Faik Saliu (Rom).
On March 28, security forces surrounded and captured the witness in the hills, along with a large group of ethnic Albanian men and women with whom he had been hiding. One man, Agim Ramadani (aged twenty-three or twenty-four) was separated out and executed, he said. Another man, Sakip Rexhepi, aged thirty-five, was taken and was missing as of mid-April, when the witness was interviewed. The group was then taken to Velika Krusa, where there was a military checkpoint. A mute man, Vefia Rexhepi (aged thirty-six) was killed near a pond along the way, and Nait Elshani (aged thirty-three) was shot closer to Velika Krusa, he claimed. The rest of the group was taken by bus to the border village of Zur, from where they were ordered to walk into Albania on March 28. The witness said he recognized the faces of three policemen, one of whom was from Velika Hoca.
The testimony above is largely corroborated by two other witnesses from Celina. One of them, a forty-four-year-old man interviewed in a refugee camp in Durres, Albania, told Human Rights Watch that he had fled Celina with his family in the early morning of March 25. Around 6 p.m. that day, the man went back into Celina with some other villagers to collect his three trucks. Although he did not see any of the bodies, women in the village told him that eighteen people had been killed and burned, and that members of the Dina and Myftari families had also been killed.17 He said:
When I went back, people told me that the Serbs had gathered eighteen people in one house, stripped them, and then burned them after pouring oil on them. A woman named Nerxhivan Rexhepi told me this, saying the people killed were from her family. Another man came and told me that the same had happened to the Dina family, where five people were killed. Another told of the same thing happening to the Myftari family, where sixteen people were killed. It was said that fifty other people were killed in Celina as well.18
On March 27, the man and his family were in the hills with a large group of Albanians, estimated at 10,000 to 15,000 people, from the area. The police and army in green camouflage uniforms with white bandanas surrounded the group, he said, and then separated out many of the fighting age men, who were then forced to strip. One youth of about twenty whose family name was Ramadani, was taken away and executed, he said. Although the witness did not know the victim's first name, the family name matches that provided by the first Celina witness, suggesting that they were in the same group in the hills. The second witness said:
When about half of us were naked, they took a young boy away to the side. Two soldiers walked him away about fifty meters to a pit. They were wearing green uniforms and white bandanas. They made him kneel. Then they shot him with a pistol three times from behind. Then they said to us: "Make sure you give us everything you have or we'll shoot you like we did him." They wanted more money. All together, we must have given them 500,000 or 600,000 DM.19
The group was then forced to walk toward Velika Krusa. At a body of water between Velika Krusa and Kushaj village, some young men were forced to stand in the cold water up to their necks, he said. In Velika Krusa, the witness heard that two men had been killed, although he did not witness their murders or see the bodies. One of the victims, he heard from others, was a mute man named Vefair Rexhepi who was shot and then "fell into the water"-a statement that matches the testimony of the first witness. The other victim was Nait Kabashi from Obtorush, which is the same first name but a different family name from that given by the first witness. From Velika Krusa, trucks and buses took the group close to the Albanian border.
The third Human Rights Watch witness was a KLA soldier, interviewed in Celina after NATO's entry into Kosovo.20 He showed Human Rights Watch a list of seventy-three people killed in Celina on March 25, as well as six people missing as of mid-June 1999.
The man claimed to have watched from a nearby hill on March 25 as Serbian police attacked and killed twenty-two members of the Zeqiri family in a small ravine behind their house. Only one thirteen-year-old boy survived, he said. The bodies were buried one month later. Another seven people were burned in a car on March 26, he said. Human Rights Watch was shown a burned car where the killings allegedly took place.
Press accounts largely corroborate the three witness testimonies provided above. In one article, a villager from Celina showed the reporter the spot on a path-"almost a tunnel, with overhanging brush"-where twenty-two people were killed; most likely the location where the Zeqiri family was killed. German peacekeepers in the area claimed that there were seventeen grave sites in the village.21
In the article, the man from Celina also claims that he was captured with other villagers in the woods on March 28, and "a few [men] were shot." Later, the man was forced to stand in a creek up to his neck before being taken by truck to near the Albanian border-a statement that matches the testimony of the second witness.
Another article by the same journalist mentions the killing of fourteen men in Celina on March 26. "There were fourteen males in that group," a witness said. "And I am the only one to survive."22
The human rights report from the OSCE, "Kosovo/Kosova: As Seen, As Told," also corroborates the general account of events. According to the report, one man hiding in the woods on March 25 watched as thirteen men were taken into a building, and then there was shooting from inside. The witness then claimed to have seen the police pile the bodies up and set them on fire.
Villagers from Celina also told the OSCE that they had been captured in the woods after the initial attack, and forced to walk to Velika Krusa, where trucks took them to Zur. Witnesses claimed that two men were executed during the walk, one of them a mute.23
Velika krusa and Mala Krusa (KRUSHE E MADHE AND KRUSHE E VOGEL)
Velika Krusa and Mala Krusa (Greater and Lesser Krusa) lie approximately one mile apart, on the border between the Orahovac and Prizren municipalities. Velika Krusa was a predominantly ethnic Albanian village with approximately 2,000 inhabitants, while Mala Krusa had a larger Serbian population, approximately 18 percent, according to the OSCE. The KLA was active in and around the villages throughout 1998 and 1999.24 Journalists and members of the OSCE-KVM mission repeatedly saw and met KLA soldiers in the area.
The events in the two villages, the first massacres from Kosovo reported during the NATO air war, should be presented together since the two populations intermingled during the attacks. However, due to limited time and resources, Human Rights Watch only focused on Velika Krusa, where more than ninety men were killed, and interviewed eight witnesses who observed killings and other war crimes in that village. The events in Mala Krusa are only mentioned briefly in this section, even though more than one hundred men are believed to have lost their lives there. Both villages are mentioned in the ICTY indictment of Slobodan Milosevic and his four top officials.
As with most of the villages along the Prizren-Djakovica road, such as Bela Crkva and Celina, police and army units began shelling Velika and Mala Krusa in the early morning of March 25, between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m. By the next day, government forces had entered the villages. Witnesses from Velika Krusa described a combination of special police and army, wearing dark blue uniforms with "police" written on the back and green camouflage, respectively. Most of the forces had white arm bands, they said. Some of the men had painted faces and bandanas; some had long hair, other had shaved heads.
The KLA was not in the area at the time of the attack. In the chaos, most of the civilians attempted to hide in cellars or flee into the nearby hills and woods. Many civilians fled to the nearby village of Nogavac, where others from the region were also gathering.25 Many people also gathered in the woods between Velika and Mala Krusa. Security forces began looting and burning many of the private homes on March 26, and they eventually captured the civilians who were hiding outside of the villages.
According to press accounts and the OSCE, the women and children in the woods were separated from the men and sent either to Velika Krusa or to the border with Albania. The men were marched into a Serb-owned house in Mala Krusa, where they were shot with automatic weapons. The victims, at least one hundred men, were then covered with hay and set on fire. ICTY forensic teams found only fourteen bodies in Mala Krusa, but reported clear evidence of grave tampering.26 The building where the killings took place had been demolished with explosives. Human Rights Watch visited Mala Krusa on June 19, 1999, and found a large crater at the site where villagers said the massacre had occurred.
In Velika Krusa, more than ninety villagers were killed in various parts of the village between March 26 and March 28. Based on testimonies from eight witnesses, Human Rights Watch compiled a list with forty-three victim names. ICTY forensics teams exhumed ninety-eight bodies from three different sites in Velika Krusa, although some of those killed may have been KLA soldiers killed in combat.27
There is also strong evidence that government forces attempted to conceal the killings in both Velika and Mala Krusa by burning and removing some of the bodies. Witnesses in Velika Krusa saw the police removing bodies with trucks and army vehicles and dumping them in the river. NATO later found a truck in the river that had bones in the back. In Mala Krusa, the house where the men were shot, was set on fire and blown up.
Velika Krusa (Krusha e Madhe)
The precise details of the killings in Velika Krusa are not entirely clear since they took place at different times in different parts of the village. One man, for example, R.E., told Human Rights Watch that he helped bury three men killed in Velika Krusa: Selim Taha (aged approximately seventy), Daim Taha (aged approximately sixty-five), and Qamil Taha (aged approximately sixty), all of whom were killed on or around March 27. Qamil was found on the road leading out of the village, while Selim and Daim were killed in the gardens of their respective homes. R.E. also believed Bajram Hoti (aged approximately thirty) and a local teacher, Osman Sejfullahu (aged approximately fifty-seven), were also killed. R.E. did not see the killings or the bodies, but found their identity documents lying in the road surrounded by lots of blood.28
Human Rights Watch first visited Velika Krusa on June 15, 1999, three days after NATO's entry into Kosovo. German KFOR troops were not allowing anyone near a roofless house in the village where bodies had reportedly been found. A German television journalist was able to take a look, however, and told Human Rights Watch that there were approximately twenty burned skeletons inside.29 In total, ICTY teams found ninety-eight bodies at three different sites around the village, forty bodies, thirty-four bodies, and twenty-four bodies respectively. Although the tribunal has not made its forensic reports public, some individual investigators have spoken to the press. John Bunn, the head of Scotland Yard's forensic team that investigated Velika Krusa, said that the victims in the village had been shot in the back of the head at close range.30 Pointing to a room in a burned house in Velika Krusa, Sue Black, a Scottish forensic anthropologist working with the same team said, "They herded people into there, shot them and set fire to the premises."31 [Maybe use this part at the front of the section . . . to the end]
As stated above, there is also strong evidence that Serbian police tried to conceal the killing by burning or removing bodies. Villagers saw police dumping dead bodies into the nearby river. According to the OSCE, KFOR later removed a truck from the river, and bones were found in the back.32
The OSCE report is supported by a man from Nogavac, R.E., who helped bury many of the dead in Velika Krusa. He told Human Rights Watch that he saw the Serbian police removing some of the bodies:
Four days after the killings, the Serbian police arrived with bulldozers, a truck, and some army vehicles. They collected corpses and took them away. We weren't able to film this. We don't know what they did with the bodies.33
According to witnesses in Velika Krusa who spoke with Human Rights Watch, on March 26, security forces rounded up all of the men, women, and children left in the village, as well as those they had captured hiding in the vicinity. The women were sent to the mosque and the men were separated into groups. S.G., a nineteen-year-old man from Velika Krusa, told Human Rights Watch what he saw after the security forces entered the village:
They separated men from women and put the men in the garden of a house. They beat the men, including me. They killed two young men at the beginning, then they started bringing others away in small groups to kill us. But they let the old men and the very young men go. I survived because, when they asked me how old I was, I said sixteen. The let me leave with the group of old and young men.34
One man, R.D., who fled into the hills when the assault began, said the security forces separated the men into three groups. He did not see the separations while in hiding, but he found twenty-five bodies in various parts of the village over the next four days, five of which were burned.35
According to R.D., one group was sent to Nogavac, one group to the Velika Krusa mosque, and one group down the hill from the village. Of the group that was sent to Nogavac, he said, fifteen of eighteen people were killed. He did not see them being shot but found their bodies in a field at the edge of the village and then helped with the burial. The dead, he said, included Fahri Hoti (aged approximately thirty), Asaf Hoti (aged approximately twenty-six), Plahe Hoti (aged approximately thirty), Bajram Duraku (aged approximately twenty-eight), and two other unidentified members of the Duraku family.
Two victims were also found dead in the mosque, R.D. said. This was corroborated by another Velika Krusa resident who was held in the mosque and witnessed the shootings. He told Human Rights Watch that he had been put on the second floor of the mosque together with approximately forty other men from the village. The men were robbed of their money, he said, but allowed to go after spending one night in detention. As he was leaving, he saw two men shot. He told Human Rights Watch:
I was about to leave the mosque. We were at the door when I saw them shoot two men less than ten meters away, and we heard them scream. I heard the shots, one shot for each, and I saw them fall. I didn't see why they shot them. But I think they thought they were KLA. The men who were shot were Besalet Krasniqi (aged between twenty-eight and thirty) and Bedri Sefulahu (aged twenty-six).36
Another Velika Krusa resident told Human Rights Watch that he was in a nearby field tending to his cattle when the attack began in the evening of March 25. Someone told him that the villagers were gathering together for safety, he said, so he ran back to the village. On the way, he was shot at with what he believed was a shoulder-fired weapon, perhaps a rocket-propelled grenade. He was wounded by shrapnel in the leg and right buttock-wounds that were observed by Human Rights Watch in Albania eight days after the attack.
The man hid in a private house for the night together with four other villagers. The next day, March 26, the five men were captured by police and taken to the center of the village, where most of the other villagers were gathered. According to the witness, the security forces separated out forty men, and then shot them with automatic guns. "They shot them with machine guns, like this," he told Human Rights Watch, while making a motion of shooting a machine gun. "It happened right in front of me."37
One man from Velika Krusa, whose two brothers were killed, told Human Rights Watch that seventeen men had been killed and burned, although he did not witness the killings. It is not clear whether these seventeen men were a part of the forty killed men mentioned above. There was one survivor, the man told Human Rights Watch: S. H.
S. H. was featured on a television documentary on Kosovo produced by the British program Panorama called "The Killing of Kosovo." In the show, the survivor is shown lying in a hospital bed with bandages covering most of his body, including his head. He is severely burned but able to recount what happened to him in Velika Krusa:
They fired at us with Kalashnikovs. As the shots sounded, I fell to the ground. The others were all killed. Their bodies fell on top of me. Their blood was in my face . . . Another policeman brought the petrol. And they sprinkled it over the dead bodies and set fire to it. After that, I knew I had to act fast or I would be burned alive.38
S.H. escaped the fire and eventually made it out of Kosovo to Albania.
Evidence of the killing in Velika Krusa was also provided by a local water engineer, Milaim Bellanica, who filmed some of the dead in the village on April 1, and then managed to smuggle the video out of Kosovo by hiding it underneath a tractor. Broadcast on the BBC on April 4, the footage was heavily edited because of its graphic content. It shows dead men in civilian clothes, who have apparently been shot in the head or under the jaw. In the Panorama documentary, Bellanica said he saw sixty-four corpses in Velika Krusa, of which he was able to identify twenty-six by name.
The Yugoslav government denounced the film and allegations of a _massacre in Velika Krusa as "a new propaganda bomb" by the West which was using "the worn-out scenario of monstrous lies and loathsome accu-sations."39
Mala Krusa (Krusha e Vogel)
Press accounts and the OSCE report on Kosovo, as well as indirect testimony provided to Human Rights Watch, provide some details on the killing in Mala Krusa. According to the accounts, approximately one hundred men were captured in the woods outside of the village on March 26 and forced with their hands above their heads into a barn in the village. They were then shot with automatic weapons, covered with hay, and set on fire.
Human Rights Watch interviewed one man, a resident of Nogavac, who said that two survivors of the Mala Krusa massacre stayed at his house in Nogavac for approximately one week, beginning a few days after the killing. The man, R.E., said:
Two survivors of a massacre near Krushe e Vogel [Mala Krusa] lived with me for seven days in my house. About one hundred young men were killed. It wasn't done by the same Serbs as those who killed people in Krushe e Madhe [Velika Krusa]. I've forgotten the name of one of the survivors; the other is P. R. The first guy had a burned face.
P.R. told me that the men were separated from the women and placed in a one-story house, half of which was filled with hay. First the Serbs killed the men with a burst of automatic weapon fire, then they set fire to the house. These guys were lucky to fall under the dead bodies. P.R. escaped without being hurt but his brother was killed. One of his cousins was killed when he tried to escape. Only ashes are left of that house.
P.R. arrived at my house at 4:00 p.m. on Friday. He was almost unconscious, walking in a complete daze, in shock. Some of his hair was burnt but otherwise he was physically okay. He said that the Serbs and Albanians used to live together in his village. The massacre was committed by masked neighbors; he recognized some of their voices. In Velika Krusa, it was Arkan soldiers.
The other survivor, P.R.'s friend, arrived about two days later. We didn't have time to go back to Krushe e Vogel [Mala Krusa] and bury the bodies. We were again forced by the Serbs to leave our homes.40
According to an article in the London Observer by John Sweeney, eight men survived the shooting in Mala Krusa and tried to run away. Two were shot during the attempted escape, but six survived.41 The article, which was further developed into a television documentary, also claimed that the survivors recognized some Serbian neighbors from the village among their killers.
On April 3, 1999, CNN aired an interview with an alleged survivor of the executions, M.K. With bandaged hands and his face covered with burns, he said on camera, "They rounded up all the villagers. Then they separated men from women. To the women they said, `You may go to the border' . . . But they put us men in two big rooms and started to shoot us. They said, `Now NATO can save you.'"42
M.K. said that the Serbian forces then covered the bodies with straw and lit them on fire. He escaped when they left to get more gasoline, and eventually made it out to Albania, where he was interviewed by CNN.
An earlier article on Mala Krusa by Sweeney presents another witness who claims to have seen Serbian forces burning between fifteen and twenty bodies in Mala Krusa and dumping them into the Drini River on March 27, although this might be the same incident mentioned above regarding Velika Krusa. While hiding in the woods near the river, the witness told Sweeney, he saw "the Serbs pour some liquid into the back of the lorry. Had they just been setting the lorry on fire, it would not have been necessary to do that. Then the lorry started to burn. It burnt all night. Had the lorry been empty, it would not have burned for so long."43
Zrze is a small village at the strategic junction of the Prizren-Djakovica road and the road to Orahovac. Before the war, it had approximately seven Serbian families. The police station was responsible for some of the surrounding villages, including Bela Crkva, Celina, Velika Krusa, Nogovac, Potocane (Potocane) and Sopnic (Sapniq).
With one notable exception, the police and army apparently did not bother the ethnic Albanian residents of the village during the last week of March and all of April, and very little of the village was destroyed. On the contrary, villagers from the area, such as Bela Crkva, were sent to Zrze and allowed to gather there (see section on Bela Crkva). Albanians ran some basic shops during the NATO bombing and were not prohibited from giving food and water to the thousands of internally displaced Albanians who passed through Zrze on their way out towards Albania. Some refugees in Albania told Human Rights Watch that the villagers of Zrze helped them during their expulsions.
On and around May 4, however, the villagers and internally displaced Albanians who were seeking shelter in Zrze, were all forcibly displaced. Some people were robbed or had their identity documents destroyed along the way.
The police and army also had a checkpoint near Zrze, perhaps to screen the tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians who were being deported towards Albania. Witnesses from Mitrovica, Pec, and other locations in Kosovo reported seeing beatings at the checkpoint, and some killings. Upon entry into Kosovo in June 1999, ICTY forensics teams exhumed eighteen bodies from around the village.
The army and police arrived in Zrze on March 25, the day after NATO bombing began. They occupied a grain storage facility, from where they had wide views southward down the valley towards Velika Krusa. Snipers from the top of the grain elevators were considered a threat by villagers, and one man was said to have been killed, although his death remains unconfirmed.
Police stole cows and lambs for meals during their stay, villagers said, as well as many local cars and trucks. And some Albanians were charged fines by the police when they used the local roads. The wheat warehouse was also allegedly used as a collection point for looted goods from the area. Villagers said they saw the police bringing many valuables, such as television sets and satellite dishes, into the warehouse, and then transporting them away in stolen trucks.
For the most part, the abusive police were not from the area. Villagers in Zrze said that the local police, run by a man named Zvonko, were not violent, and at times they even helped protect local Albanians from the police and paramilitaries that had come from other parts of Serbia. One man claimed that, about one month before the NATO bombing, Zvonko helped get him released from a police interrogation.44 One woman said that, during the bombing, the local police were "helpful." She said:
The regular policemen actually helped us, but when the other policemen came, the local police said they couldn't help us. . . . The regular police did not levy fines, but the others would fine us every time we would go on the main road. They [the regular police] also helped us to avoid executions of people by other policemen and soldiers.45
On May 4, police and soldiers began going house to house at the edge of the village robbing local Albanians. The villagers were given one hour to pack their things and head for Albania, which all of them did. No violence was reported during this time.46
The only serious violence reported in Zrze prior to the expulsions was the alleged rape of a local woman on April 5. Human Rights Watch interviewed two people who testified that a twenty-two-year-old woman, whose name is being withheld, was sexually assaulted by unknown Serbian men. One man staying in Zrze during the war, who was originally from Bela Crkva, told Human Rights Watch that he saw the woman, a relative of his, taken by an "army captain," although it is not clear if the perpetrator was in the army, police, or paramilitaries.
She [the alleged victim] is twenty-two and very beautiful. The army captain said: "This woman is not yours anymore." It was on April 5 in the morning. They entered the house and grabbed her. They caught her by the hair and put a gun to her head, and they told her husband that she was theirs. An old man [name withheld] went to the soldiers' house to try to get her back but it took him an hour to get her. She was very traumatized when she returned. She fainted and she was sobbing. She's still ill. She said that the police threatened her. They said that Albanian women are very strong-so strong that they can have sex with the whole Serbian army. She faced all sorts of insults; she was in shock and was very reluctant to talk about it. We were afraid she had been raped, but we asked her and she said no.47
In a separate interview, a woman from Bela Crkva who was sheltering in the same house in Zrze talked about the alleged rape of the same person, claiming that, after the attack, the woman wanted to kill herself. She said:
In Zrze, the Serbs grabbed a woman and put a knife to her throat, and they kept her for one hour. Her name is [same as witness above, but withheld to protect the victim]. She is tall and very good looking. She told the women that she had been raped. She kept saying she wanted to kill herself. She was married and was chosen by the Serbs in front of her husband. They pointed a knife at her and tried to kiss her, while she tried to escape. They said, "if anyone makes a move, we're going to kill you." Nobody dared to move. We had to put our hands up. She was the most beautiful woman in the whole area . . .
When she returned, she was in shock, crying and
crying. She wanted to kill herself by sticking her fingers in the light
socket. She couldn't talk. We couldn't leave her alone because we were
afraid she would kill herself. She cried for hours and pulled her hair
out. That evening she told her mother-in-law that she had been raped. It
happened on Wednesday, about a week or so ago.48
1 Human Rights Watch interview with
B.Z., Kukes, Albania, April 15, 1999.