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Crisis 1999
News Archive 1999

Letter from Natasa Kandic - Human Rights'Activist

Dear friends,

I am currently in Montenegro, consulting lawyer - refugees from Kosovo -about ways to conduct research into events in Kosovo after 24 March.There are over 80,000 Albanian refugees in Montenegro. Approximately 60,000 of them are from Pec, Mitrovica and Istok. Interviewing refugeeswill help us obtain relevant material about the pattern of ethniccleansing in the above places. This material will be useful to the ICTY's Office of the Prosecutor for their decisions on conducting investigations and bringing indictments.

The office in Montenegro, in Ulcinj, is the third office of theHumanitarian Law Center. The office in Pristina does not exist anymore. Last time I was there on 3 April, was my second visit to Pristina since 24 March. Through the open door, I saw books and paperscattered all over the place, desks with no computers, and the usual mess after a police search. Mentor Nimani, one of my lawyers, lived in the neighborhood. I will never forget 29 March in Pristina, and Mentor on the staircase of his block, at his wit's end from terror and ready to flee Kosovo. We had been in contact on daily basis in the previous days, so I had known he lived in fear that someone might come, knock on his door and kill him, but the terror I saw in his eyes made up my mind then and there to depart immediately. I had already found my other staff, so we were ready to go. Vjollca stayed in Pristina. Her father was adamant that she stayed with her family and that they were not to loose contact. She phoned me from Albania several days later. All families from her part of town had been expelled, transported by train to Blace, a village close to Macedonian border. She spent a few days there, out in the open together with a group of 20,000 people. They were put on buses and taken to the Albanian border by night.

On that 29 March, we started from Pristina towards the Macedonian border, Ariana, Nora, Kushtrim and some friends whose names I cannot disclose for their personal security. Several hundred cars followed us. We returned after we had received information that the border had been closed, and when we saw policemen wearing masks on their faces. We returned to Pristina, dropped Ariana off, as she decided to stay until my next visit, and turned Belgrade bound. I do not know how we managed to leave Kosovo, there must be God somewhere. A car with three Albanians and two Serbs. We cleared all check points, each in fear that they will discover who we were, arrest and separate us. Mentor's fear did not disappear in Belgrade. It was easier for him, but that was no freedom either. Several days later, we went to Montenegro, Mentor then went to Albania and subsequently to the US. Nora stayed in Montenegro working with refugees for a while. She left for Budapest on 4 May. She, too, is US bound. Ariana was waiting for my arrival in Pristina. She was looking after our Jeep. She left for Macedonia on 5 May. She is currently visiting camps and interviewing refugees. She plans to return to Kosovo as soon as it is safe to do so.

Whenever I show up in Pristina, people can hardly believe it possible. It amazes me that I manage to do it. The first time I went back, on 27 March, I took a taxi to the bus station in an attempt to find a bus for Kosovo. Some ten meters away from the bus station, it occurred to me to ask the driver if he would take me to Bujanovac, a small place 100 kilometers from Pristina, thinking that I would be able to catch a lift to Kosovo from there. He agreed to my proposal, and when we were near Bujanovac, he accepted, for a generous fee, to take me all the way to Pristina. If it had not been for him, I could not have taken three Albanians out of Kosovo. He had a way of chatting with policemen, an air of nonchalance when clearing check points, asking about fuel and cigarettes, that left an impression he was one of their own kind. I went with him two more times. He would always ask, "who are we getting out this time" before each trip.

When I travel to Kosovo, on roads with no traffic, with police and military check points, I never think about the possibility of something bad happening to me. Riding through Serbia, my primary concern is fuel. I keep bothering the driver about how much fuel we have already spent. When I see the road sign for Kosovska Mitrovica, I start to look round. The villages were intact until 5 May. They were obviously empty, but there was no arson. I took a note that on 23 April, I met a large group of people on the same road, who were walking towards Vucitrn. These people were returning to their homes having spent two weeks in woods hiding, and were anxious whether the police would allow them to go back and whether their houses were still standing. They were looking at me in utter disbelief when I told them they should return home, that people were going back to Pristina from the border. Unfortunately, these same people as well as others from Vucitrn, have been expelled from their homes. On 5 May, I saw that the town was empty, and many houses were on fire. The same day, I passed through Mitrovica. There were neither police nor military in the town center. There wasn't a soul to be seen. Large sections of town had been destroyed. One could see that houses had been plundered first, and then set on fire. There were some people in the suburbs. Serb parts of town were intact. Afterwards, when I talked to Albanians from Mitrovica who came to Montenegro, I found out that approximately 30,000 Albanians were expelled from Mitrovica on 15 April, and that they had been ordered to leave for Montenegro. They traveled on foot, it took them three days to reach Dubovo, a village 80 kilometers away from Mitrovica, where the Yugoslav Army stopped them. The army kept them there for three days, when three officers announced there had been an "order for refugees to return home". They were put on buses and shipped back to burnt down Mitrovica. Hunger and fear made many of them leave Mitrovica again and go to Montenegro.

Every time I enter Pristina, I feel relieved. I say to myself, "It's still standing". Bajram Kelmendi is gone. He was murdered on the first night of NATO bombardment. He was taken from home with his sons that first night. Fehmi Agani is gone, too. I never managed to meet him in Pristina. He was last seen at Bajram Kelmendi's funeral on 27 March.People were saying he was in Pristina in hiding, changing houses, and that it was good he was not going out. I tried to find him, but no one knew where he was. Now I wonder if it was possible that he was still free at the time, and if it was his decision not to communicate with anybody. I shall not have peace until I find out how he was murdered and what was happening with him after Kelmendi's funeral. He was an old friend. I can still hear his words: "How is it going Natasa, are you less busy, how is your health, your family?"; and in the same breath: "There is hope, we must believe that things will get better". A long time ago, in 1994, we both attended the Conference on the Hague Tribunal in Bern. I remember those days for two reasons. Although there were only a few participants from Serbia, he spoke Serbian in front of a huge audience, the majority of them Albanians. He said he was doing that because of his Serb friends, out of respect for their work. One day during the Conference, he invited me to meet some of his former students who had arrived from Germany and Switzerland to attend the part of the Conference concerning Kosovo. When he introduced me, I realized that he had not told them he had invited a Serb woman. At that time, there were few occasions for Serb and Albanian intellectuals to sit together and talk. I could see that his students were stunned, but soon they welcomed me and apologized for the fact they did not speak very good Serbian.

The news about Agani's death has reached me in Montenegro. At the hotel reception desk, I have been told that a cousin of Agani's called from Pristina and said he had been arrested. The next day, the news said his body had been found near Lipljan.

Best regards Natasa Kandic

(Source: B92)

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