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Crisis 1999
News Archive 1999

Kosovo atrocities recounted in detail

(New York, July 27, 1999) -- Human Rights Watch today released a detailed report on how Serbian and Yugoslav forces besieged and terrorized the ethnic Albanian population of Glogovac town and the surrounding villages in Kosovo.

Human Rights Watch urged the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to locate and interview the police officer identified in the report as "Lutka," who may have valuable information about the identities of those who committed summary executions and other atrocities in the area.

The twenty-five-page report describes summary executions, including a massacre of twenty-three children, arbitrary detentions, regular beatings, widespread looting, and the destruction of schools, hospitals, and other civilian objects during the Serbian government's three-month campaign of "ethnic cleansing" from March - June 1999. As a stronghold of the KLA and an area of constant fighting with government forces, the Glogovac municipality was particularly hard-hit between March 19, when international observers (the OSCE's Kosovo Verification Mission) withdrew from Kosovo before the NATO bombing campaign, and June 15, when Serbian and Yugoslav forces withdrew from the region.

The most serious atrocities documented in the report took place in two villages near Glogovac: Staro Cikatovo and Stari Poklek, both places where the KLA was active. In Poklek, the police blocked a group of ethnic Albanians -- mostly members of the extended Muqolli family -- from fleeing their village and forced them into the house of a relative. After a few hours, the owner of the house, Sinan Muqolli, and another man were taken outside, executed and thrown into the family well.

Shortly thereafter, a grenade was thrown into the room holding at least forty-seven persons, including twenty-three children under the age of fifteen. One man in uniform raked the room with automatic gunfire, a survivor said, killing everyone inside except six people. A member of the Muqolli family is a local commander of the KLA.

A Human Rights Watch researcher visited Sinan Muqolli's largely burnt house on June 25, 1999. The room where the killing took place had bullet marks along the walls and bullet casings from a large-caliber weapon scattered on the floor. The basement below the room had dried blood stains dripping from the ceiling and walls and a large pool of dried blood on the floor. Surviving family members displayed a cardboard box containing some of the bones allegedly collected from the room and showed the nearby well where they claimed some of the bodies had been dumped.

In Staro Cikatovo on April 17 the police attacked the village and separated the men from the women and children. By the end of the day, twenty-three men from the Morina family had been killed. Another four were still missing as of June 25 and presumed dead by their families. The survivors from Staro Cikatovo insist that none of the dead men were involved in the KLA, although several members of the family are KLA soldiers, including two who were wounded in the assault. As in Poklek, this may be one explanation for the executions.

Human Rights Watch visited Staro Cikatovo on June 25, 1999. Between 40 and 50 percent of the approximately one hundred homes had been badly damaged or destroyed. Most houses had been burned from the inside, indicating that they were purposefully burned rather than damaged in combat. Several structures had also been demolished by bulldozers.

The actions in the Glogovac municipality were clearly coordinated between the regular Serbian police, the Yugoslav Army, and paramilitaries, whom witnesses identified as having long hair and beards, with colored bandanas on their heads and sleeves. While the police were responsible for many of the beatings in Glogovac, as well as the organized mass expulsion, it is the paramilitaries who are implicated in most of the serious violence, such as in Poklek and Staro Cikatovo.

The only person identifiable by witnesses was a deputy police chief from Glogovac known as "Lutka," a known policeman in the town. Residents said that he did not behave brutally, unlike many of the paramilitaries, although he was involved in thefts, and he was a principal organizer of the forced depopulation in early May, telling Albanians that they should "get on the buses or go to Albania by foot."

It should be noted that these abuses are hardly the first war crimes committed by Serbian or Yugoslav forces in the Glogovac municipality. Since February 1998, the Drenica region has been the sight of numerous executions, arbitrary detentions, beatings, and the systematic destruction of civilian objects, such as schools, medical clinics, and mosques.

Human Rights Watch called on the international community to support the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) by guaranteeing ongoing financial and political support to the Tribunal, assisting the Tribunal to identify witnesses and evidence, and working closely with the Tribunal to secure evidence and ensure the protection of witnesses.

The organization also urged the international community to provide the Tribunal with any intelligence information obtained that relates to the commission of war crimes, including the identification of specific units engaged in operations in areas in which abuses occur, and to convey relevant satellite intelligence information to the Tribunal.

Source: Human Rights Watch

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