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News Archive 1999

Kosovo Human Rights Flash #33

NATO urged to use extreme caution

Civilians put at risk by Yugoslav forces' use of civilian property for military purposes

(April 30, 1999)

Yugoslav forces in Kosovo are hiding tanks and other military equipment in the burned out shells of ethnic Albanians' homes according to refugees arriving in Macedonia. This comes against a background of "ethnic cleansing" and the systematic destruction of civilian property.

Residents from three villages close to the southern town of Urosevac (Ferizaj, in Albanian) and from a village close to the Macedonian border told Human Rights Watch that after Serbian security forces attacked their villages and forcibly expelled them from their homes, tanks were hidden in civilian houses and courtyards. Those houses left intact were used as military offices, and to house soldiers.

Several witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the Yugoslav military entered the village of Sojevo, approximately 5 kilometers east of Urosevac, on April 6 and searched the village for persons linked to the Kosovo Liberation Army. According to the witnesses, they then hid their tanks in courtyards of civilian homes. The following day, paramilitaries entered the village, setting fire to houses and forcing the remaining population to flee.

A refugee from the nearby village of Biba (around 2 kilometers east of Urosevac) described a similar operation in her village on April 14. She told Human Rights Watch, "The day we left, the military came to the village at around 5 p.m. They put tanks inside the houses and covered them in straw. Then they told us to go to NATO." She also explained that "[the military] are staying in the houses of Albanians" in the village. The village was looted and burned as the villagers fled the following morning.

The Yugoslav Army also concealed Serbian tanks and soldiers in the village of Kamena Glava (Komoglave in Albania), 5 kilometers southeast of Urosevac. According to one witness interviewed by Human Rights Watch, "The military came into the village with tanks at 11 a.m. on Friday (April 9). They were destroying the doors and putting tanks in the yards of houses. They stayed in the village - they dug trenches, they put tanks in houses, and the three houses they didn't destroy they used as offices." His account was confirmed by another witness from Kamena Glava, who described how the military had established "a headquarters" in the village and estimated that there were as many as 40 tanks hidden in the village. The witness also claimed that "NATO had bombed a tank parked in the yard of one my houses [in the village]." Similarly, another woman from the same village told Human Rights Watch that "nearly all the houses in Komoglave were burnt except for those where the army had hidden their tanks."

Serbian forces employed a similar strategy in the village of Globovica (Globocica in Albanian). The village, which is close to the Macedonian border, was attacked on April 10. Witnesses said the police killed farm animals and beat villagers before expelling them. One resident explained that "we didn't leave our village until the tanks came," indicating that there were as many as 50 tanks involved in the operation against the village. Witnesses also described the use of civilian property by Serbian forces for military purposes: "I saw an armored personnel carrier sheltered in the yard of a friend of mine," one man explained to Human Rights Watch. "The military are staying in all of our houses at the moment [in Globovica] because they are afraid of NATO."

Human Rights Watch is concerned that a pattern is emerging in which the Yugoslav Army and Serb police are placing equipment, ammunition and vehicles in or near civilian structures, thereby increasing confusion about what is a military and what is a civilian area and significantly increasing the likelihood of loss of civilian lives. Human Rights Watch urges Yugoslav forces to refrain from taking actions that further jeopardize the security and safety of the civilian population. The organization also urges NATO to take this emerging pattern into consideration when identifying targets for attack so as to avoid to the fullest extent possible more civilian casualties.

Source: Human Rights Watch

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