Hope on the Balkans Kosov@ Crisis 2000
A-PAL Special Statement
Prishtina, 27th September, 2000
From the Dubrava prisoner hunger strike
In May, 1999, many Albanian prisoner were transferred to the Dubrava storage facility near Istok. They were brought there from prisons all over Kosova and prisons in Serbia. One of these people was Ukshin Hoti. On May 19, NATO bombed the area and prison for several days. Following that, the guards staged a large massacre.
On September 19, 2000, a group af seventy nine newly released prisoners, survivors of both Dubrava and their time in Serb prisons, gathered in front of the site on a windy, open field for a hunger strike, organized by Reshat Nurboja and Jahja Lluka. On the day I was there, they were visited by Hyadet Hyseni of UNMIK, Marian Elena Andreoti and Elizabeth Griffin of the UNMIK Human Rights office, and General Adem Ceku of TMK.
The released prisoners, some home for only two weeks, are appealing to the general public for help in releasing the prisoners they left behind in Serbia. They are asking for a special department to be created in the UNMIK administration that will deal with the problem of missing and detained on a daily basis, so that the prisoners and their families can have acces to the newly appointed UN Special Envoy. Other group, such as the Mothers of Gjakova prisoners, support their demands. They also want organized assistance for returned prisoners, who suffer from many social and economic problems.
They began their vigil at a nearby mass grave site, where they paid homage to over a hundred prisoners, who were hastily buried following the massacre last May. It is the largest mass grave in Kosova, and it has been dessicrated following the ICTY investigation and exhumation of bodies. Small gray boards bearing only numbers and the date - May 26, 1999 - lie tossed about among shoes, sneakers, pants, blankets, and rubber gloves. It was an appalling sight, one that moved everyone to tears.
But so did the stories of these seventy former prisoners, gaunt after seven days of fasting, wrapped in blankets, and now camped out in front of the bombed out site.
Aslan (age 47, a teacher): It's so hard to describe the massacre. Both physically and psychologically, we are tired. On May 21, 1999, the prison here was bombed by NATO. Twenty three died from this. It was horrible. I thought I would die too. Then the next day, the guards gathered us at the field for sports. It was 6:30 a.m. They put us in rows. Suddenly there was a lot of shooting and around eighty people died right away. We ran and hid in a basement. But the next morning paramilitaries came wearing masks and pulled us out. They line up five hundred of us aggain in the field. Then they put us again in basements and wells and executed many people this way.
Shaban (age 22, student): When we made the line, grenades started and they threw bombs and shot big guns at us. One hundred died immediately. Many were wounded. We hid in basements, rooms. Then four guys with masks came and threw mine in the rooms. They shot some people in the head. We were hiding in a basement. The next morning, they came again. I kissed my little brother and said, "This will be the last time we see each other." They took us from the basement and lined us up. They executed people shooting them in the head. They shot into the wells too.
Izet (age 29, kitchen worker): All the time in Peje prison we were beaten. We could her the screams of one man beaten for two or three hours. He was making big screams. I would be hit at that moment to stop the torture of that man. I remember that May 18 was the first time we had hot water and could wash. Then on May 19, no lunch came. We heard a big explosion, the windows shook, and the glass exploded in and cut my friend. The ceiling cracked so we hid under the beds. We tried to get out. Other prisoners came and opened the door. We all went into the yard. The guards had all gone but later returned with weapons. With the prison commander, Miki Vidicin. They said, "You wanted NATO? Look how Nato will kill you now."
Deme (age 51, worker): This paper is not enough to tell what I felt and saw at the massacre here. The biggest tragedy for me was on May 22. The guards put us in a row to kill us in the sports field. They shot all kinds of weapons at us. I was lying on the ground. After ten minutes, they stopped shooting. I tried to excape crawling on the ground. I got into a well with seven other men hiding there. We tied the cover of the well down with wires. But the other well covers were loose from the bombing. When the guards came on May 23, they tried to take the cover off, but it was on too tight, so they left it alone. We heard them say, "There is nothing in there. Let's go."
Maki (age 25, student): I am very sorry but I can't possibly tell you in detail what happened here at Dubrava. I was just released from prison and my psychological condition ist not good. I can only say that that day, my friends and I experienced a psychological cataclysm. They executed people. That day the international rights of prisoners here were pushed down to the ground.
Please help us release the prisoners. We are worried about the instability in Serbia. We here in this strike have already been in a terrible massacre. We fear this is what may happen to them. The remaining prisoners may be in grave danger. In prison, we were very hungry. Meals were only one smal piece of bread. We believe prisoners have been forced to vote for Milosevic or be put in isolation.
Please also ask to help those released as well. Families have paid all their money for ransoms and have nothing left. We have no medical care. Our students don't have money for school. Families need social assistance and counseling. We want the mass graves where our friends were buried to be restored properly and not to remain desecrated as they are now.
We also ask for an international investigation into the disappearance of Ukshin Hoti, who disappeared last May. One of the supervisors of Dubrava, Branko Komotina, was seen escorting Mr. Hoti to the prison exit on May 16, 1999.
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