Suva Reka (Suhareke)Suva Reka town, with approximately 10,000 inhabitants (90 percent ethnic Albanian), and its surrounding villages were continuous areas of conflict in 1998 and 1999. A KLA presence in the hills around the town made the region a regular target of police and army actions. Many villages suffered killings and the destruction of civilian property at the hands of the police before the NATO intervention.1
During the NATO bombing, most of the abuses in Suva Reka took place in the first week when many residents were expelled and a series of killings took place, as reflected in the chapter Statistical Analysis of Violations. Thousands of people were either deported to Albania, some by bus, or they fled into nearby areas controlled by the KLA, such as Djinovce (Gjinoc) and Budakovo (Budakove).2 Looting and burning of civilian property was widespread.
Former employees of the OSCE and those who had rented their homes to the OSCE were under particular threat. The most serious incident was the killing in Suva Reka town of at least twenty-four members of the extended Berisha family, including eleven children aged sixteen or younger, which had rented two houses to the OSCE. In Trnje village, six kilometers southwest of Suva Reka, at least twenty-four people were killed, including seven children aged fifteen or younger.
According to the Suva Reka office of the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, 430 people were killed in the Suva Reka municipality during the bombing, and sixty-seven people were missing as of late August 1999.3 The KLA-appointed mayor after the war, Haki Gashi, said that 427 people had been killed in the municipality, although approximately eighty of these people had been KLA soldiers.4 Human Rights Watch did not confirm these numbers or clarify whether KLA soldiers killed in combat were distinguished from those summarily executed (the latter, no less a war crime than deliberate killings of civilians.) Aside from the forty killings in Suva Reka town documented in this section (all of them on March 25 or 26), Human Rights Watch confirmed the deliberate killing of eleven male civilians and the rape of at least two women in one village (which will remain nameless to protect the victims and their families), the killing of at least twenty-four people in Trnje village, and at least twelve killings in Belanica, a village where tens of thousands of displaced Albanians had assembled. According to the OSCE, killings of smaller numbers of people also took place in the following villages: Bukos (Bukosh), Budakovo (Budakove), Vranic (Vraniq), Geljance (Gelanc), Sopina (Sopine), Mus-utiste (Mushtishte), and Lesane (Leshane).5
The war crimes tribunal exhumed three grave sites in Suva Reka town containing 103 bodies. One of them contained fifty-five bodies, and the other two contained fifteen and thirty-three respectively.6
According to witness testimonies, most of the abuses in the municipality were committed by Serbian police or paramilitaries who were said to have worn a variety of uniforms, either blue, grey, or green. Some wore black masks, while others had long hair. And many of them, witnesses said, wore white bandanas around their arms. A name mentioned as a leader of local forces by at least four witnesses was "Misko" Nisevic, who was well known in Suva Reka town as the owner of the Hotel Boss and, more importantly, the local head of state security.7
The police station in Suva Reka was under the Secretariat for Internal Affairs (SUP) of Prizren municipality, which covered Prizren, Orahavac, Gora, and Suva Reka (see Forces of the Conflict). As of February 1998, the chief of the Suva Reka police station was Lt. Dobrivoje Vitosevic, and Sub Lt. Radojko Repanovic was his deputy.8
Interestingly, after the first wave of Albanians were expelled from Suva Reka in late March, the police generally allowed Albanians to stay in the town. There was even an attempt to register people at this time, and men were obliged to report to the police station once a day.
Suva Reka (Suhareke) Town
The OSCE presence in Suva Reka (November 1998 to March 1999) helped provide a sense of security for ethnic Albanians in and around the town. Predictably, abuses increased around March 20 when the OSCE withdrew from Kosovo. Some skirmishes between the KLA and police took place in the villages around Suva Reka, and Serbian police harassed and beat some ethnic Albanian residents. Tension increased on March 22 when at least seven ethnic Albanians were killed by the police or "disappeared" in unclear circumstances.
More serious violence began after the first NATO bombs fell on March 24. Serbian police and paramilitaries took up positions around the town and systematically forced residents to leave, witnesses said. The police organized buses for some people for deportation to the border with Albania. One resident of Suva Reka, a journalist, told Human Rights Watch:
After the first bombs, on March 25, in the early morning we heard shots from guns and one armored vehicle from the Berisha neighborhood. We heard the news that they had massacred them [the Berisha family] while some were still sleeping. There was panic among the population, and [there was a rumor] that a part of town should move to the other part, on the other side of the road. We stayed for two days, and I saw fire and smoke. We even saw fire and smoke from the Balkan rubber factory. We think they burnt people there, because of the smell.
Two days later, on March 27, Serb paramilitaries came to the other side of town, looking for some people by name, and they burned some houses where the OSCE had been staying. The population got scared, in every house there were about a hundred people. When they came to twenty or thirty meters away from us, I said: "Let's just go and leave town."
The worst incident involved the families of Nexhat and Faton Berisha, who had rented their adjacent houses to the OSCE. Between twenty-four and forty-two people from the Berisha family were killed, six of them in front of their homes and the others in a shopping center near the town's center. Two women and one male child survived.
According to a family member who lived next door and witnessed the incident, the police first arrived around 5:00 a.m. on March 25 and demanded money from Nexhat and Faton Berisha. The police beat Nexhat and took any equipment the OSCE had left behind. The witness said he recognized one of the policemen as Miki Petrovic, brother of Zoran Petrovic, whom another witness claimed to have seen in the area. The witness described how the police came again the next day and shot members of the family:
At 12:00 noon another group of police came back, some twenty to thirty, and surrounded these two houses [of Nexhat and Faton]. We were in touch with them by telephone. Both families were in the house of Faton in the night of the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth. They came and knocked on the door, and took all the people outside. I was watching from my window. The women and children passed by our house, the others were near the house of Nexhat. At one point, they called the men-Sedat, Bujar, Nexhat, Nexhmedin and Faton, and Fatime, the mother of Faton. Without any sign, they just started to shoot at them, with a burst of gunfire. Some people went into the houses and set them on fire. I again recognized Miki Petrovic, but I didn't recognize any of the others. I got upset when I saw how they killed members of my family. The others started to run down to the shopping center. I didn't know then the destiny of the rest of the family, I just heard a lot of shots.
They were in new police uniforms, with white bandanas around their arms, and shaved heads. I didn't see Zoran Petrovic, but Flaka9 said that she saw him. The house of Faton and Nexhat was burned, it is only two to three meters away from mine. I was afraid that it would also catch my house. I was thinking to go out, but the snipers were waiting for us. At that moment, I heard a lot of shooting and there was a lot of fire, but I didn't know what was happening. We went with six children in the toilet, put handkerchiefs in the mouth of the kids, we were afraid the Serbs would hear us. The police had taken the six bodies and put them behind Nexhat's house, but when the roof started burning, pieces fell down on them and they burnt. It burnt until the evening. As a doctor10 I couldn't believe bodies could burn that much.
I stayed in the house until after 6:00 p.m., when the police came in the house and wanted to burn it. They were in groups of three policemen, and went from house to house. They opened the door, they didn't know we were inside, so I went and opened the door for them. At first he wanted to shoot me at once, but I talked in Serbian with him. My brother gave 1,000 DM, so they released us. We took our cars, and we all went to Albania: five adults and six children.
When I arrived in Albania, I found out that the rest of the family had been killed as well, Flaka told me. They put them in one cafeteria in the shopping center. There was the family of the sons of my uncle, and three other families. These families went out of the house because they were scared, and they wanted to go to the other side of town through the shopping center. They caught them, and put them in the cafeteria. First, they threw some grenades in that place, and people who survived were killed with guns. Flaka, Mirela and Arben11 survived, but were wounded. Later, they brought a truck, and put them all on the truck, and went towards Prizren. People who saw the truck saw blood dripping down to the road. Flaka, Mirela and Arben jumped off the truck near Ljutoglav. People who were there took them to the doctor of the KLA. In total, forty-eight people were killed in half an hour.12
The OSCE's report on Kosovo includes information provided by one of the survivors, Flaka. She said that on March 21, the police questioned her husband as to why he had allowed the OSCE to stay in his house. On March 25, as the witness above testified, the police visited her home around 5:00 a.m. They beat her husband unconscious in her house (the above witness was not able to see this) and stole any goods of value left by the OSCE.
According to her testimony in the OSCE report, the police came again on March 26. She explained how, after shooting some of her relatives in front of the house, she and a group of other uninjured family members were chased to another part of town, where they were forced into a cafe. Citing her testimony, the report states:
Around midday on 26 March the police came again. A policeman she knew (and named in the interview) called her brother-in-law's son outside and shot him dead. The police screamed at them and when the families ran outside they found their house "under siege" from police, Serb civilians and "Gypsies" (Maxhupet). Some of the family were shot dead immediately. The interviewee was among a group of other family members who were chased to a different part of the town, apprehended and pushed into a café.
She saw the police shoot every person in the room with machine-guns and rifles. She had her four children-two girls aged sixteen and fourteen and two sons aged ten and two years old-gathered around her. They were all killed. She was trying to protect her two-year-old son with her legs but he was shot and died.13 She was also hit in the abdomen with a bullet that had passed through her elder son's body. She encouraged him to pretend he was dead but as the perpetrators collected the bodies and took them outside they saw that her eldest son was still breathing and shot him again. She heard him cry out once. At least twelve children under age seventeen were killed and ten adults including a pregnant woman. The interviewee pretended to be dead as the police removed all valuables from their bodies. . . . She was placed in a truck on top of other bodies including the children. On the way towards Prizren she jumped from the truck and was found by people who took her to UCK-held territory where her wounds were treated. She then spent some time moving around Kosovo avoiding the shelling. She left Kosovo on 9 May.14
The OSCE report also states that two witnesses saw a truck full of dead men, women and children "on or around March 26" drive into the garden of the high school, where the bodies were set on fire, although neither the OSCE nor Human Rights Watch confirmed that these bodies were those of the Berisha family. Serbs, whose names were recorded by the witnesses, were repeatedly seen unloading the bodies.15
Other killings took place on March 25 in the neighborhood where the Berisha family lived. One woman, N.E., who lived a few hundred meters from the Berisha house, explained how security forces entered her home and executed her son, Fadil (aged twenty-six) and brother-in-law Medi (aged fifty). She said:
We woke up at 5:10 a.m. on Thursday, March 25, because of gunshots. We went to the door, and saw they were in the house of our neighbor. Right away, some of them came to us. In total, there were seven of us, but only two men: Fadil and Medi. They came inside and asked the owner: "Where are the children?" They caught my son Fadil and the brother of my husband, Medi, and started to body search them. They were pointing their guns at our chests, and demanded money and gold. We gave them all we had. They took Medi, a lawyer, in another room, and asked him something. They brought him back, then they took Medi and Fadil in another room. They started shooting in front of our feet, and told us to get out of the house.
We didn't see them being shot, but we heard the shots when we were still in the house. There were eight of them [police], and two of them went into the room with them. With us, there were four inside, and two at the door. They started shooting [at us and at them] at about the same time. They had green camouflage uniforms, white bandanas, and knives. They didn't have masks. I didn't recognize any of them, but I remember the one who gave the orders. He was short, had a black hat, he was dark skinned, a little bit fat, no moustache or beard, about thirty-five to forty years old. They spoke in Serbian, but outside, when they started to insult us, they sometimes used Albanian words. Neither Fadil nor Medi had fought with the KLA. Medi has worked in court, and later worked in the Balkan factory. Fadil was a mathematics teacher.16
Another female family member who was in the house at the same time confirmed N.E.'s account and then found Fadil and Medi's bodies when she returned to Kosovo in June. She said:
We left Medi and Fadil, and went to Semetishte, and then on to Albania. When I came back from Albania, I saw signs of the bodies inside the house, there was hair on the floor. We found the body of Medi on August 29, and buried him yesterday. He was in a graveyard on the road to Restan. People of KFOR took Medi's body out, together with some others. Fadil was found two weeks ago in a graveyard on the road to Pecan.17
In describing another incident, a woman told of four policemen coming to her home, shooting her uncle and, apparently, her father. She told Human Rights Watch:
On March 25, about 7:00 a.m., we were staying in this room. There were ten of us in the room, only two men, my father Avdyl (aged forty-seven) and my uncle Osman (aged forty-one). At first, they [the Serbs] were staying outside near this window. Then they broke the door, came in, and told us to go outside. But at the door they stopped us and asked if there was someone upstairs. First they had taken money from my uncle.
There were four Serbs: one inside, one at the door, one in the yard, and one at the gate. They had masks, gray uniforms, no camouflage, patches, white bandanas on the arm with nothing on it. I didn't recognize any of them. They took us outside, separated my uncle and he was shot in the yard. My sister is an invalid, and my father was carrying her. We went on the road to Pecan. They gathered other people from the neighborhood. They stopped us near the school, a few hundred meters away from our house. The put us all in a [unfinished] building without a roof. We stayed there, and they told my father to put my sister Aferdita (fourteen) on the ground. They told all of us to get out of the building, and kept my father there. Me and my sister carried Aferdita. They told us to go to the KLA, and we don't know anything else anymore. After about ten meters, we heard shots from the building. We had to go on to Pecan. They later found the body of my uncle in the graveyard of the Berisha family. We don't know what they did to my father.18
Yet another woman, whose daughter was among those killed with the Berisha family (see above), explained how two other members of her family, one of them a mechanic for the OSCE, were killed by armed Serbs that same day:
At 5:45 a.m. on March 25, we woke up from gun shots. I woke up, my husband Raif (aged fifty-seven) was still sleeping. I went upstairs to see if there were police at the school or not. I didn't see any of them in the streets or the school, but I heard a lot of gunfire. I went down again, and I heard the gun shots coming closer to us. I woke my husband up, and we discussed what to do. I proposed the attic, but he said no, they can burn the house. We discussed whether we should go to the attic or the basement.
My husband was still dressing when they came inside the yard. There were a lot of them in the yard, and a lot of them in the street. About twenty in the yard, maybe more. They had grey uniforms, white bandanas, I didn't see any masks. They were screaming, and asked for the owner of the house. My husband went out to speak with them, but they didn't let him speak. They asked: "Do you have children inside the house?" My husband started to scream to us: "Get out!" When I went out, I saw my husband lying on the ground, I don't know why. They took me to him, and told my husband to get up. They told both of us to put our hands in the air. They didn't allow him to say anything. They pointed a gun at us, and I begged them not to shoot us, we were innocent.
They were talking through a walkie-talkie. They kept us for five minutes, and then one of them said: "Go away, women!" I went to the house of my brother-in-law Kadri, and when I got there, I saw Mina, Kadri, and Bardhyl [family members] in a line with guns pointed at them by twenty Serbs. When they saw me, they told me to get in the line. They didn't know the others had released me. Mina and I started to scream: "Don't shoot at us!" But Bardhyl and Kadri didn't say anything. Mina wanted to save her son Bardhyl, so she gave 1,000 DM and a gold necklace. She said: "Please, just release my son!"
One of them started to scream that we had to go away. One policemen came and took us outside the gate and onto the street. When we went onto the street, we heard shots, but we didn't see it happening. They told us to leave for Semetishte. They only spoke Serbian. Later, they found the bodies in the house of Bardhyl.19
Human Rights Watch spoke separately with Bardhyl H., aged twenty-six, who confirmed the above account. He added his personal story, which included hiding in a basement for twenty-eight days, during which time he kept a journal:20
The day after NATO started bombing, before 6:00 a.m., we were surrounded by the police. We were sleeping, my father, mother and me. They [Serbian security forces] came up the steps, and were in the yard. One of them on the steps started to scream: "Come on, open the door, fast!" I was in the bedroom on the first floor, my parents were in the living room. When I went out from the room, I saw my parents in the hallway. I ran down and opened the door. One of them was in front of the door, and he pointed a Kalashnikov at us. We went out with our hands up. For twenty minutes, they abused us in the yard, asking all kinds of questions and pushing us.
We had two cars in the garage, and they told me to open the doors and they took the car keys from me. In the meantime, they had brought my uncle and his wife here, after about fifteen minutes [see above testimony]. They separated us men, and told the women to get out of here. My mother started to beg them: "Please release my son!" Before they had been checking the house, and my mom gave them money, about 1,000 DM.
But they started to push the women to leave. After the women left, they took us up the steps to the house and started to shoot at us. We jumped into the hallway, and fortunately I was not hit. I managed to go up the stairs and went to the attic. Both my father and my uncle were hit and killed. When I went upstairs, the house of my uncle, which is connected to ours, was burning, and they shot with a gun to burn our house as well. I stayed in the attic for ten to fifteen minutes, but the house was burning, so I jumped from the balcony and went into the yard of my uncle. I went inside a little shed, which was not burned, and stayed until the evening. Then I went into the basement of the house and stayed there for twenty-eight days. The first ten days, it was difficult to get food, I just ate sugar and jam from the house. And I found some baby food I ate. It was hard to get water. After ten days, I found a gas can in the house of my neighbor, and I could make pancakes, french fries etc. For water, I went down in the well with a plastic canister of three liters and took water. During the night, I sometimes went out in the yard, but during the day the police were in the streets. After that, I went outside, and went to the area where there were still people from Suva Reka.
There were twenty to thirty Serbs, probably paramilitaries, in the yard [on the day of the killing]. It was not regular police. My mother says the uniform was black, but I think it was dark blue. They had white bandanas around their arms, and all of them were young, seventeen or eighteen years old. They had no masks, no insignia, and nothing written on the bandanas. There were no signs at all. They had Zastava cars. I didn't see any other weapons, just automatics. They only spoke Serbian to us.
The bodies stayed here for a long time, I don't know how long. None of us were ever in the KLA, my father was a quiet man, he never hurt anybody.21
A male resident of Suva Reka told Human Rights Watch how Serbian forces killed at least ten other men in another incident on March 25. He said:
The day after NATO bombing, at 6 a.m., Serb paramilitaries, police and Serb civilians entered Albanian homes. The police went from house to house, gathered the men, and brought them to a house maybe thirty meters away from my house. We managed to escape. When they asked for money and gold, Fadil Berisha gave them 200 DM, but it wasn't enough, and they shot him. Ahmet Kryeziu (aged fifty-four) gave them 500 DM, but he was killed anyway by the same guys. Abdullah Elshani (aged approximately forty-two) and Osman Elshani (aged approximately thirty-three) were also gathered and brought to the same place. Again, they gave money, then they were shot. In total, ten or eleven people were killed this way in this house. I was in our yard, maybe twenty or thirty meters away. There were four or five men wearing ordinary police uniforms, carrying machine guns.22
Exactly how many people were killed in Suva Reka town on March 25 is unclear. But based on the testimonies in this report, at least forty people were killed, including eleven children aged sixteen or under and seven women.
After March 29, many of Suva Reka's residents were allowed to stay in the town. Ethnic Albanians interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported continued harassment, looting and burning, but no serious physical maltreatment during this time. The authorities distributed registration cards to the Albanian residents and ordered the men to report to the police station once a day. Food was available at Serbian-run stores. One woman originally from Recan, X.X. (initials altered) said that, around the beginning of May, she was in the village of Shtime:
We stayed there one night, and they [Serbian police] gave us biscuits and cakes. Then they told us to go to Suva Reka and go to houses that were not burned yet. We stayed in Suva Reka for one week. We didn't have any problems there. All men had to report every day to the police station. They were told not to accommodate any refugees or KLA people. We got a registration card in Suva Reka. The Serbs told us we could walk freely, but that we should be careful of bombing. But only men walked in the streets; the rest didn't go out. There was not sufficient food in Suva Reka, only the food we found in the house. There were no shops anymore, they've burned them all.23
Some Albanians, however, were expelled from Suva Reka around May 21, some of them on buses organized by the police. The witness above, X.X., told Human Rights Watch:
Yesterday [May 21] at 9:00 a.m., they told us to leave. My husband went to the police station as usual, and that's where they told him we should leave. All people in Suva Reka had to leave, but they were all people from surrounding villages. We went to the main road, and there were three buses waiting that took us to Zhur. We were treated well in the bus, there were no problems. At the border, they took 50 DM from me.24
North of Suva Reka town, Belanica is a small farming village with three hundred families and an estimated 3,000 people, all of them ethnic Albanians, set amidst bucolic orchards and vineyards. The houses are spread around a large grassy field, with a school and medical clinic in its center.
The villagers in Belanica had to flee their homes on a number of occasions during the government's summer 1998 offensive. At least one villager is known to have died at this time when he returned during the shelling to care for his livestock. Otherwise, the villagers were generally spared direct violence, even though the KLA was active in the area.
That changed with the onset of NATO bombing. Over the period of a few days, tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians, most of them displaced from nearby villages, gathered in Belanica, where they were harassed, beaten, and robbed by Serbian police and paramilitaries, before being expelled to Albania. There are strong allegations of rape, and more than two dozen men from the Belanica area are believed to have been killed.
Belanica is a unique case in the Suva Reka municipality since both the KLA and the Serbian forces allowed Albanian civilians to congregate there. The KLA told civilians who were fleeing the shelling of their villages that Belanica was safe. Meanwhile, Serbian police and Yugoslav Army soldiers also directed the internally displaced towards the village because, they said, there was no fighting there. Somewhere between 12,000 and tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians, depending on the witness, crammed into the village, most of them huddled together with their tractors in the central field. Shortly thereafter, the police and paramilitaries attacked the village, which suggests that Belanica might have been used by Serbian forces as a gathering point for the internally displaced to expedite their expulsion from Kosovo, as well as the looting and robberies that accompanied the "ethnic cleansing."
Villagers in the Suva Reka municipality began to flee their villages due to police harassment and attacks just after the OSCE departed Kosovo on March 20. By March 24, the commencement of NATO bombing, thousands of refugees had fled to the hills and forests due to government shelling or fear of attacks. Many gathered in Pagarusa village where the KLA was located.
Refugees testified to Human Rights Watch that the KLA directed them to Belanica beginning around March 25. Thousands went to Belanica on March 31 when Pagarusa was shelled. One eighteen-year-old woman from Duhel told Human Rights Watch:
We stayed four nights in Pagarusa, beginning on the night of March 26. When they [government forces] began to shell the village on March 31, people began to flee. Many shells fell; I couldn't even count them. Two women were killed by the shelling, one from Banja village in the Malisevo district and one from Decani.
We left Pagarusa for Belanica on March 31. We went to Belanica because the KLA told us to go there; they said there was no shelling there. But it seems this was also the army's goal; they wanted us to concentrate there, and that's why they didn't shell it.25
By March 31, at least 12,000 displaced ethnic Albanians were in Belanica, according to one person who was present, most of them women, children, and elderly, since the men of fighting age had fled into the hills. Most other witnesses claimed the number was much higher, even up to 100,000 from the surrounding villages. The most authoritative journalistic research on Belanica was conducted by John Daniszewski from the Los Angeles Times, who interviewed more than two dozen villagers from Belanica and the surrounding area, and published a series of articles that focused on one family. In one of his articles, "The Death of Belanica," he estimated that 80,000 people from fifty different villages were in Belanica.26
According to the article, on the evening of March 31, a KLA soldier warned those in Belanica that the KLA was retreating, leaving it open to attack. An estimated 1,600 more young men fled into the hills.
The details given in the article closely match the testimony of twenty witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, both in Albania when they were refugees and back in Kosovo in August. According to most of the testimonies, the government's attack began on April 1, although three people said it began on March 31. Around 6:00 a.m. on April 1, most witnesses said, shells fell on the lower end of Belanica. By early afternoon, Serbian troops dressed in blue and black uniforms, some with ski masks and others with face paint, entered the village, shooting wildly into the air. Tanks and armored vehicles roared into the center of the village.
One witness originally from Dobrodeljane (Doberdolan) claimed that the police tried to register some of the internally displaced. According to the witness, the Serbian forces said that no one would be hurt and that people could go home after the registration process, although the police did shoot at a few young men who were trying to escape.27
All of the witnesses, however, agree on what came next: terror and banditry at the hands of the Serbian police and paramilitaries. Many men were beaten over the next few days, they said, and an unknown number were killed in the village.
The most common police and paramilitary activity was robbery. Every person interviewed said that the government forces demanded money and jewelry from men, women, and children in return for their lives. Deutsche Marks were demanded to save a person's life. When people could not pay, they were killed. One woman told Human Rights Watch:
They kept coming up to the tractors. It was mostly women and children on the tractors. They would come up and do things like pull the pin from a grenade and say, "I'm going to drop this in there with you if you don't give me some Deutsche Marks." They would also grab the children by the throat and pull out a knife, saying, "We'll kill the kid if you don't pay up."28
Another woman told Human Rights Watch:
I heard lots of screaming, lots of gun shots. They hit people when the people refused to give them money. The police kept coming up and saying "Give us money or we will kill you." People with no money had no way of saving themselves.
At one point, the police came up to a man on the tractor in front of me. They said, "Give us money!" He didn't have anything for them. He was from Ostrozub (Astrazup) village. So they pulled him off the tractor and killed him. When he didn't give them anything they [four policemen] pulled him off the tractor by his arms and legs. They brought him around to the back of a house, then I couldn't see him anymore. I heard shooting and I could see one of the policemen aiming his gun and firing. The man didn't come back to his tractor.29
Yet another woman said:
The people who were killed had no money. The soldiers wouldn't accept [Yugoslav] dinars; they demanded Deutsche Marks. I saw a woman with her wounded son. A policeman came up to her and said, "Give me 1,000DM or I'll kill him." She pleaded with others to giver her money so that she could pay the policeman, and she got some. Her son was not killed.30
One fifty-three-year-old man originally from Duhel said that he saw the police kill five people. He told Human Rights Watch:
The scariest part was that the Serbs were shooting in the air and my children were scared. I saw them killing five people about fifteen meters away from me. They were asking the victims for money. They didn't have money, so the Serbs shot them dead. I don't know the people who were killed.31
One woman, H.S., explained how the police took away her seventeen-year-old son, Ifraim, and demanded money for his return. She said:
After the registration, they came to the tractors and demanded money. I had met a relative and was in their tractor. They took my son of seventeen, Ifraim Shala, away and took him to a basement. They said: "Your son is in the KLA, you have to give us money or we'll kill him." I had to give them jewelry to get my son back. They kept him for one hour in the basement, and came four times to ask for money and jewelry before the let my son go. They threatened me, and said: "Whore, give me all your money." They beat up my son when he came out of the basement. They beat him with the butt of a gun. In total, they beat him three times.
They also did this to other people. They just roamed around the crowd, asking for money. When you gave money, they left, but then came back again, and asked again for money. This continued several times, until there was no more money, and then people got beaten. I saw several people get beaten. They wore blue uniforms, and some of them black uniforms, with black bulletproof vests with [Cyrillic] letters on the back. Some had masks, you could just see the eyes.32
Human Rights Watch interviewed two other men who were taken for brief periods into the basement of a house in Belanica. Both of them were interrogated about the KLA, threatened with death, and beaten, but eventually released.
H.S. also witnessed the security forces shoot three men because they did not have any money. She said:
In the light of the tractor, I saw two men from Marali [Moralija in Serbian] in a tractor with a trailer maybe two tractors away from mine. The same three masked men who had asked us for money came to them, and asked for money. They grabbed them by their clothes, and demanded money. The men said they didn't have any money. Then they shot them with a small gun, you could barely hear the shooting. One of the men was around fifty, the other around thirty-five. I heard that others were killed as well, but I haven't seen that. Those who had money were told to leave, those who didn't were stopped and beaten up. We heard gunshots all the time, and threats, like: "You asked for NATO, so go to NATO, go to Albania."33
One woman, aged seventy, gave detailed testimony about how the police broke into her home and killed her seventy-seven-year-old husband. The elderly couple had decided to stay in their home with a young child, she said, because they were too tired to go into the field:
We put on a fire and tried to warm up some food. As we were sitting there, four or five men suddenly came in. My husband can't see so well; he didn't know they were soldiers. He said to them "Welcome!" and then offered them cigarettes. They knocked the cigarette pack from his hand. Then one of the soldiers shot him in the arm. Then they shot him again, this time in the chest. My husband said, "Oh, mother," and fell on the ground.
There was a small child with us in the house; they kicked him, but didn't kill him. Then they went to the second floor, searched the house, and told me to leave. There was a tank nearby; as I was leaving the house, they fired a shell at the building. The house was destroyed.34
Another witness, a journalist from Belanica, said that he saw the police shoot a mentally handicapped and deaf man because he did not give them money. He said:
Just minutes before we left, in the house of my cousins, they killed Agim Bytyqi, a retarded man from Nishor [Nisor in Serbian], who was between thirty-eight and forty years old. I saw it happen. I was only twenty to thirty meters away. He couldn't talk, he was deaf and dumb. I think they were asking him for money, and when he didn't answer, they shot him with a burst of gunfire from an automatic gun.35
Lastly, two different witnesses, interviewed seperately, reported the killing of two men from Moralija village (Marali) in Orahovac municipality, Osman and Bekim Vrenezi. One witness, a cousin of the two men, told Human Rights Watch that the police took Osman and Bekim away, claiming that they were in the KLA. He said:
At 4:00 or 5:00 p.m., they took two of them, Osman (aged twenty-seven) and Bekim (aged fifteen), and said they were members of the KLA. They asked for money, but we didn't have a bank with us, and we didn't have any money left to give. They had all of our money, 2,500 Deutsche Marks and gold. We were without money. They kept saying that they were KLA. Then they took them away, and we didn't see what happened. We were afraid to leave our family. The KLA later found them [dead] in Belanica.36
The other witness, a man from the same village but unrelated to the family, claimed to have seen Osman and Bekim Vrenezi get shot, ostensibly because they did not give enough money to the police. He told Human Rights Watch:
At 7:30 p.m., two people from my village, Osman Vrenezi, twenty-seven years old, and Bekim Vrenezi, sixteen years old,37 were killed. They asked them for money. They had 900 Marks, but they wanted 1,000, which they didn't have. I heard the shots, and I saw them fall down.38
It is not clear how many people were killed in Belanica since the Albanians came from such a wide range of villages. All together, witnesses cited in the Los Angeles Times article claimed to have seen twenty-two people killed, although this is not presented as a total figure for the village. Human Rights Watch confirmed twelve killings based on twenty witness interviews, although at least one of these is also mentioned in the Los Angeles Times article.39 A follow-up article by John Daniszewski cites the mayor of Belanica, Gani Zogaj, as saying that thirteen men from the village were killed.40 According to the war crimes tribunal, three bodies were found in the village.41 Again, since the victims came from the surrounding area, relatives may have taken their bodies away for burial.
Human Rights Watch also heard serious allegations about rape in Belanica, but was unable to document any specific cases. Ethnic Albanians suggested that rape had taken place, but they were unwilling to speak about it. The Los Angeles Times article also mentions how gunmen threatened women with rape. One witness claimed that two women were taken into an abandoned house and raped, but this allegation remains unconfirmed. Other women are in the article as reporting sexual harassment, such as security forces making them take off their shirts to check for money.
Beginning April 1, the Albanians in Belanica were ordered to leave the village, and many of the homes were set on fire. Convoys of tractors and people on foot were sent in two directions: south to Suva Reka town, Prizren, and then Morina on the border with Albania, or northwest to Malisevo, and then to Orahovac, Zrze, Prizren, and Morina. Police and army units were very present along all of the roads, witnesses said. Some Albanians were forced to stay for twenty-four hours in Malisevo until the Malisevo police organized three buses and many trucks to bring the people to Zur village near the border.
Some men were detained by security forces during the journey to Albania. One man from Belanica explained how four men were taken on the road between Malisevo and Ostrozub (Astrazup), three of whom were later found dead. He said:
We went from Malisevo to Ostrozub, where they stopped Shaban Zogaj, the son of my neighbor, and took him away. They hit him with the butt of an automatic gun, and he was lying down on the asphalt. Then they told us to leave, and we didn't know what happened to him. When we came to Orahovac, they took three young guys: Sami Zogaj (aged twenty), Sali Zogaj (aged thirty-three), and Elmi Zogaj (aged nineteen). [We heard] they were shot on April 5. We later went to take their bodies in Orahovac and reburied them here [in Belanica].42
Human Rights Watch interviewed Shaban Zogaj's father about the incident. As of August 19, he had no information about Shaban's whereabouts or condition. He said:
In Ostrozub, I was with the tractor, and two tractors and a truck were behind me with my family. When we left Ostrozub, near the INA gas station, they stopped my tractor again, and took my son Shaban (thirty-three) from the tractor. I didn't see it happen, I was in front of him. I asked someone if they [the rest of his family] were coming, and someone said no. I stopped my tractor, and waited. When they came, I asked my [other] son: "Are all of you here?" My son said: "Father, they have detained Shaban." I went to the truck, and asked my family if we had any money left. We had 2,000 DM. I took the money, and went back. My son Ismail told me not to go. But I said I wanted to go. He tried to stop me but he couldn't. So my son started to swear and said: "Please don't go, we already lost one [family member], I don't want to lose another." But I went, and my son came behind me, and said: "Don't go, it's over. They hit him and he was lying on the asphalt." But I didn't want to stop. I came very close, but then the police told me: "Your son is now our son, and we know what we will do with him." They brought me back. I tried to give them money, but it didn't help. I went back [to my family] and we went on. It is hard to leave family behind, it would have been better if I had seen him being killed. I don't know what happened to him. Since I've come back [to Kosovo], only five days ago, I haven't tried to find him. Tomorrow I'll go to Istok, where they are digging up graves.43
Human Rights Watch also interviewed a family member of the three other Zogaj men who corroborated the story. Elmi, Sami, and Sali were taken off their tractor in Orahovac, the witness said, and the family was forced to move on. He told Human Rights Watch:
We left them in the hands of God. They killed them five days later. We found them on June 19 in the graveyard of Orahovac. We exhumed all three bodies, and we recognized them from their clothes. Sali had been beaten in Belanica and his jawbone was broken. He was executed at close distance. He was shot in the head. Sami was also shot in the head. Elmi was shot in the chest. Their jackets were all covered with bullet holes.44
Village in the Suva Reka Municipality45
On April 21, Serbian security forces surrounded a small village in the Suva Reka municipality that will remain nameless due to the nature of the crimes that took place there. All of the village's men fled into the hills except for eleven older men who stayed behind with between 200 and 300 women and children. All of the eleven men were killed and thrown into a village well. The women were held for three days in private houses, where some of them were sexually abused and raped.
Human Rights Watch first learned of the abuses in late April while interviewing refugees in northern Albania. At that time, the women of the village reported being held for three days in private houses by Serbian forces. Two of the women interviewed openly acknowledged having been raped, while witnesses gave Human Rights Watch the names of four other women whom they believe were sexually abused.
As refugees in Albania, the women told Human Rights Watch that the police had taken away eleven elderly men. Some women claimed to have seen one of these men lying dead near the road as they were marched out of the town on April 24, but they didn't know who it was. One elderly woman testified that she had overheard the police talking about how they had killed the men and thrown them into a deep well. The other men were missing, they said.
When Human Rights Watch visited the village on August 1, different villagers confirmed that the same eleven men mentioned by the women had been killed. The men were thrown into a village well, which was then mined. Forensics experts from the war crimes tribunal discovered twelve bodies (a twelfth man was killed on May 5).
According to villagers in the area, the KLA had been active in the Suva Reka municipality throughout 1998 and 1999 in the Petrovo area, with a base in Budakovo. During the NATO bombing, the KLA was also in the village of Lanishte (Llanishte).
The police first came to the village on April 5, villagers said. They demanded money and jewelry at this time, and burned some of the homes, but they did not directly abuse any of the village inhabitants. According to the OSCE report, the villagers prepared a local guard in anticipation of another government attack.46
The police surrounded the village again in the early afternoon of April 21. The men of the village, including some people from nearby villages, fled into the hills to join the KLA. A large number of people from the villages east of Suva Reka gathered near Lanishte, where the KLA was based. There was fighting in the area for three days, one witness said, leaving sixty Albanians injured and two dead, as well as five Serbian policemen killed.47 According to the Serbian Ministry of the Interior, nineteen policemen were injured in "terrorist attacks" in the Suva Reka municipality between April 22 and 24, although it is not clear whether they were injured in the fighting mentioned by the witness.48 After three days, the KLA sent the civilian population, as many as 10,000 people according to one witness, to Petrovo. Some civilians went to Racak.
The only people with direct knowledge of what occurred in the village after April 21 are the women and children who remained there, and their Serbian captors. According to survivors-Human Rights Watch spoke with twelve women-the police captured all of the 200 to 300 women and children (including fifty women from nearby villages and the eleven elderly men) in a field. The men were searched and taken away. The women were divided up randomly for confinement in three private houses.
During this time, the women were repeatedly threatened and harassed. The police demanded the women place their money and jewelry in a bucket that was passed around. When the booty was inadequate, one witness said, a policeman held a knife to a three year-old boy, saying that he would kill him if the mother didn't produce gold or money.49 Certain women were ordered to cook and clean for the Serbian forces. Some were forced to have sex with their captors.
The two rape victims interviewed by Human Rights Watch were held in the same house, which was crowded with frightened women and children. Women held in other houses described similar conditions. One of the victims described how she was sexually abused on two occasions, during one of which she was raped. At approximately 4 p.m. on her second day of captivity, she said, she was "chosen" from among a large group of women by a man in a green camouflage uniform. The man took her to another house and raped her. She told Human Rights Watch:
[The rapist] said "come here." He took me away from all the women and did whatever he wanted with me. He was small, about forty or so, dark-skinnned, a Gypsy. The Serbs have recruited Gypsies. I knew he was a Gypsy because of the way he looked: they're black, dark-skinned. There's lots of them in Suva Reka. He was in a green camouflage uniform, the same as the Serbs, with red stripes on the shoulder. . . .
The Gypsy took me to another house, about five minutes' walk away. He was alone with me for half an hour or an hour. He had sex with me: he did whatever he wanted. It was a cousin's house. We left around 5:00 p.m 50
The following day, another man demanded she go with him to a different house some ten minutes' walk away. According to the woman's account, the man did not tell her where he was taking her or why, but instead pushed her forward with his gun when she started crying.
The house was full of members of the Serbian security forces, she told Human Rights Watch. They asked her questions, using a mixture of gestures and very basic words to communicate, as the woman hardly understood Serbian. They asked her age, whether she had any children, and the whereabouts of her husband. They asked her for money. When she told them that she had none, they ordered her to take off her clothes. She started crying and pulling out her hair, which made the men laugh. They put on some music.
After she took off her clothes, the men approached her one by one as she stood before them naked. She told Human Rights Watch that all of them looked at her, then they left her alone in the room with the man she believed to be their commander and another officer, who was naked on a bed. The victim was made to lie on the bed with the officer who, she said, touched her breasts but did not force her to touch him. The commander, whom she recognized as such because he had gold stars on his cap and had issued orders to others, reclined on his back about ten feet away. "I kept crying all the time and pushing his hands away," she said. "Finally he said to me, I'm not going to do anything. The commander just stared at us."
After approximately ten minutes, the other soldiers returned to the room and, still nude, the woman was forced to serve them coffee. She was then ordered to put her clothes back on and clean up. She picked up the dirty cups and dishes and swept the floor, she said. Then she was returned to the house with the other women. When the others asked what had happened to her, she refused to tell them.
The second rape victim told Human Rights Watch that the police took her away from the house where she was being held and brought her to another house. There she was placed in a room and forced to strip naked. One after the other, five members of the Serb forces entered the room to look at her body, but it was only the last man who raped her, she said. While he was assaulting her, the other four entered the room and watched. The woman also stated that someone had placed a walkie-talkie under the bed in the room, and that throughout the ordeal the Serbian forces shouted at her via the walkie talkie to scare her. In all, she was held in the room for about half an hour. She explained:
Five soldiers came into the room where I was naked, one by one. Only the last one had physical contact with me; the others just looked, and said to me: "If the others ask, say that we had contact." Each one spent a few minutes with me. . . . The last guy stayed longer than the others. After a while the other guys burst into the room and found us having sex; they stayed and watched. I was in the room no more than a half hour.51
Other women held in the village told Human Rights Watch that they had seen or heard other women being taken by the Serbian forces during their three days in captivity. One elderly woman said that, on the third night, the police entered one house shining a flashlight in the faces of the women, many of whom were trying to cover their heads with their scarves. They found one woman and said, "You come with us." She returned approximately two hours later and, when asked what happened, said, "Don't ask me anything."52
Human Rights Watch spoke with a doctor from the United Arab Emirates refugee camp in Kukes, Albania, where the refugees from the village were staying in late April. He said that three other women from the village had come to him on April 27 to report that they had been raped. The doctor said that one of these women showed obvious signs of severe emotional distress.53
On Saturday, April 24, all of the women in the village were forced to walk to a nearby village, where they were held in the local school for two days and two nights without food or water, although no one reported further physical abuse. On April 26, the Serbian Red Cross came and provided the women and children with milk, bread, and canned food. The group was then taken in two buses to the village of Zur, where they were forced to walk across the border into Albania.
The residents of the village returned to their homes on June 16. Human Rights Watch visited the village on August 1. Only two of the twenty-eight houses were not damaged in some way, mostly by fire.
Villagers told Human Rights Watch that twelve men in total had been killed in the village. One of them was killed on May 5 in a field. The eleven others were all killed on or around April 21. The names provided were exactly the same as those provided to Human Rights Watch by the female refugees in Albania. Their ages, from forty-nine to ninety-one, also matched. Furthermore, the villagers said, all eleven bodies were found in a local well, which was also mined. Human Rights Watch saw the freshly-dug graves of the eleven men on the edge of the village. According to her November 10 report to the UN Security Council, ICTY prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said that forensics experts had discovered twelve bodies in the village.54
According to the villagers, the first government forces to arrive in the village were in blue or green uniforms. On the second day, however, they were joined by armed men in green uniforms believed to be army personel. Many of the men had brown armbands; some perpetrators had long hair and beards and others wore black ski masks. One of the policemen, a witness said, had black hair with a dyed yellow streak in front. One of the rape victims said that most of the Serbs in the house where she was taken were carrying foot-long knives on their belts.
Human Rights Watch spoke with three eyewitnesses to a mass killing on March 25 in the village of Trnje, six kilometers southwest of Suva Reka town. Interviewed separately, the witnesses reported direct knowledge of between twenty-four and thirty-six killings at the hands of security forces in green uniforms, and the total number may be higher.55 One of the witnesses saw Serbian forces taking away the bodies four days later.
All three witnesses, two from Trnje and one originally from Studecane, testified that government security forces entered the village around 6:00 a.m. on March 25. It appears that two houses on the edge of the village were targeted. One witness, I.G., a survivor of the shooting in his house, told Human Rights Watch:
Two police came inside the house, and inside the living room, and eight or ten were outside with guns. The police who came inside told us to go outside. They didn't even allow us to put on our shoes. I went out, and saw the other policemen [in our yard], and lots of police outside the gate, and another group of police coming from the direction of the school. The other police were standing at the wall, pointing their automatic guns at us. They told us to sit down, and we all sat down in a line, my father was the last one. My father came to me and said he would go inside the house, but when _he went two other policemen inside the house shot him in his neck and _killed him.
Then one of them came to me, and asked me where the men were, because there were only three men, and the rest were all women and children. From their pocket they took out some insignia or emblem of the KLA, put it in my mouth, and told me to ask for NATO. Then they hit me with the butt of a gun in the back of my head. They broke my skull, I was operated on [later]. I fell down, and lost consciousness for a moment. When I opened my eyes again, I saw a line of eight policemen who started to shoot at us with an automatic [gun]. Only two of us survived, me and my cousin N. B. from Studenqan [Studencane]. One third young kid survived for thirty hours, but then he died. I was not hit. After they killed everyone, they burned three houses. Only one room was okay.56
The man later left his house to look for other people in the village. In the house of the Voci family, he saw Ali Voci lying dead. At the house of a relative, he saw Shemsi and Votim (a seven-year-old child) also lying dead. In total, the man believes that thirty-six people were killed on March 25 in the village, and another nine were killed thereafter during the war. But he was only able to provide the names of twenty-four victims.
Human Rights Watch spoke with another survivor, N.B., who corroborated I.G's account.57 He said that he had come to Trnje to be with his family because there had been shooting and shelling in his home village of Studecane since the OSCE left on March 20. He explained how, in Trnje on March 25, one of the men in green uniform was holding a KLA patch in his hand and demanding to know who was the owner of a house. It was this man, N.B. said, who gave the order to shoot:
The man with the [KLA] emblem in his hand gave the order: "Shoot!" In one second, they started to shoot, and we all fell down. They hit me in my left hand.58 I saw it was all covered with blood, and I couldn't move it. After I fell down, I heard one shot-they were shooting at me because I was moving. But the bullets didn't hit me. I stayed like that for three to five minutes, and when I didn't hear anything, I stood up. I saw that one child about nine years old was still moving. I went to my car, about five meters away, and at that moment I.G., who was on the right, stood up. He was all bloody on his head and neck. We asked each other where we were hit, and we saw that the others weren't moving anymore.59
The third witness was in a different house from N.B. and I.G. This seventy-one-year-old man saw security forces-he did not know if they were police or army-enter the village on the early morning of March 25. They came inside the gate of his home, he said, and burned the stable. Between ten and twelve armed men then came inside his house. They threw a hand grenade, he said, but no one was injured.
The forces then went to other houses in the village, including that of I.G. After some time, the witness left his home to look around. He saw the dead bodies of Shemsi Gashi (aged forty), the wife of his son (name unknown), and Votim Gashi (aged seven). Some people were killed in another house, he said, including Barie Gashi, Ajmane Gashi, and Besarta Gashi, all members of his family, as well as Rahime Voci (aged fifty to fifty-five), Ramadan Krasniqi (aged seventy-three), Refie Kransiqi (aged forty-eight or forty-nine), Behjare Krasniqi (pregnant, aged twenty-three or twenty-four). Two hundred meters away were the bodies of the witness' nephews, Shaban Gashi (aged thirty-eight) and Hamzi Gashi (aged thirty-five), as well as those of Muhamet Krasniqi (aged sixty-three), and Refki Reshaj (aged forty-nine). Finally, Haki Gashi (aged seventy-three) was killed in the street and Mehmed Limani (aged fifty-five) was killed in the witness' yard.60
On March 29, four days after the killing, N.B. claims to have seen Serbian forces removing the bodies from Trnje in a truck. He said:
Early in the morning I heard a truck come from Leshane [Lesane in Serbian]. I heard them stop, and they opened the metal doors, and I knew they came to take the bodies. I heard when they put them in the truck, and I heard the Serbs complain about the smell. They put them all in, and went back to Leshane. They also burnt the car, my tractor, and another room where Musli was.
In the evening, I went out into Musli's yard, and saw that they had taken all the bodies, there was just one child's jacket left in the yard. I didn't see anyone in the village, and I didn't know what to do. I decided to go to Mamushe, where the people from Studencan were hiding. I arrived at midnight, but the people were afraid to take in refugees, so I stayed two nights in the mosque. Then people from Pagarushe came, and we took a truck and went to Albania. We put up a white flag to show we had surrendered.61