Kosovo Under KFOR and KLA: Chronicle of defeat, humiliation, and suffering
SERBS LEFT AS TARGETS
by Nikola Zivkovic
Glas Javnosti, Belgrade, FR Yugoslavia, August 12-17 1999
This article contains excerpts from a series of articles published in Glas Javnosti between August 12 and 17 1999. Journalist Nikola Zivkovic lives in Germany and visited Kosovo after the entry of KFOR and the Albanians as a German journalist.
This morning I left with two Portuguese journalists towards Pec. Our taxi driver is, of course, an Albanian. He was recommended by a local Serb as "a reliable and honest young man". Two bridges on the road to Pec are heavily damaged and the traffic is very slow. Along the road one can see many destroyed and burned houses. We are passing through Zaimovo, Drenovac, Ljesane. Everywhere the same picture. We are greeted by Albanians in KLA uniforms. It does not appear that they are armed. Graffiti on the walls: UCK-NATO and numerous Albanian flags. A passerby gets the impression that he is in Albania. No trace of Serbia can be seen.
Pec is an almost totally destroyed town. Three houses are on fire. We ask Italian soldiers, who are impassively observing the conflagration, what is going on. They reply, with resignation, that Albanians are burning Serb houses. From afar, it appears as if we are watching a Cowboy or, better said, an Indian movie. The photographer from Portugal requests from the driver to get closer to one of the burning houses in order to take a few pictures.
Suddenly, an Albanian runs in front of the car. He is about 40 years old and is talking loudly at our driver. Based on his facial expressions it is not difficult to figure out that he is enraged with our driver, who has suddenly turned very pale. He immediately turns the car around and heads for hotel "Metohija" where the headquarters of the Italian KFOR contingent is located. Briefly, the taxi driver says that the Albanian was from Pec and that he was angry that our taxi driver, an Albanian also, was not acting "like a patriot" since he accepted to take foreign journalists to see how Albanians set Serb houses on fire. We take a short walk through the center of the town. Unlike Pristina, Pec has suffered significant destruction. Our driver asks me not to talk in Serb and only use English.
A short conversation in hotel "Metohija" with the Italian KFOR contingent spokesperson Mr. Fabrizio. I notice two elderly women and a young man trying to explain something to an Italian soldier. They seem agitated. We approach these people. They say they are Serbs. It appears that the two women are so scared that they cannot speak. The young man, his name is Vladimir, says that a group of armed Albanians has been maltreating Serbs for two hours already and that the Italian soldiers are refusing to provide protection.
"I have to leave Pec. Serbs do not fell safe. KFOR is not able to protect us. Italian soldiers have told us that even they do not feel safe. On several occasions the Albanians shot at them as well. The remaining Serbs are preparing to leave the town today or tomorrow. Serb houses are burning, apartments have been broken into, and the nearby Serb villages have been destroyed. Only an immediate decisive action by KFOR could prevent the disappearance of Serbs from this territory but, as you can see for yourself, it is not likely. The Italian soldiers have surrounded their headquarters with barbed wire and are reluctant to get out on patrol. They drive around in an armored troop carrier and return to their headquarters. There is no real help for Serbs at the moment. At this moment the most important issue is to save about twenty Serbs who live in apartment buildings at Heroes square, numbers 25 and 23. Five armed KLA members have been maltreating the Serbs there the whole morning. All of this, as you can see, is taking place only 100 meters from hotel 'Metohija' where the headquarters of the Italian KFOR contingent is located. Therefore, you can imagine the situation of Serbs who live a kilometer or ten kilometers away from here".
I do what I can. I alarm the present journalists, about ten of them. Then, I describe the current situation to the Italian soldiers and they really go into action after about twenty minutes. About fifteen Italian soldiers, followed by a group of foreign journalists and crying Serbs enter a "Serb" building. On the second floor, Ljubisa says:
"They are too late. They have already stolen our valuables: money, documents, jewelry."
Italian soldiers take away a handgun from a KLA member. He is not in a hurry to leave. Slowly, he climbs down the stairs with a colleague and waits in front of the building. Italian soldiers are nervous and are warning Serbs to hurry up.
In front of the building, there are two buses and several cars in which the Serbs are soon to leave their birthplace, perhaps forever.
Hysterical from fear, a 75-year-old woman stands silently on the side. She is whimpering quietly. In that commotion no one has time to deal with her troubles. Everyone is trying to save himself and his loved ones. She says that her name is Kosara and that she was originally from Hercegovina and that she lives at 17 Heroes Square, first floor. Three Italian soldiers and five foreign journalists follow her to her apartment. The lock on her door had already been replaced. One Italian soldier kicks the door in. Kosara first looks for her family photos.
"See, I hid them under the carpet. You know, my husband was an officer and I was afraid that KLA could see that. They would have killed me on the spot."
The door of the next door apartment opens. Rabija, originally from Brcko, appears.
"What are they doing? Kosara is like my sister."
Italians are slowly getting impatient. One of them says: "Madam, you have three minutes. Are you leaving with the group of Serbs in front of the building, or are you going to stay with your neighbor?"
Silence. Kosara first goes down the stairs, then returns to Rabija. They hug and go inside. All the present wish them luck.
Outside an angry elderly man is shouting:
"This is a shame. What are they doing with us? Please, translate for these foreign journalists. Those Serbs who sold Kosovo and Metohija to Albanians were the first ones to flee: JUL, the Socialists and the Radicals. Where are they now? They are defending Kosmet, but only over the Serbian Television. The Serbian Police and Army withdrew and left this people to its own devices. Why did not they openly tell us that we were defeated, so that we could withdraw with dignity: people first and our Police and Army behind. I am not ashamed to be defeated by America. Now, Sloba is giving medals and decorations for courage to soldiers and policemen and they are celebrating a victory. Let Serb journalists and politicians come here to see what is going on. I am ashamed to be a Serb."
In front of the building, bus drivers have already started engines. Verica Isakovic is also there. She is afraid, crying, hysterical. Her three-year-old son is standing next to her.
"We are staying. We are poor wretches and haven't wronged anyone. Please, help me! All of our neighbors, to whom I have helped many times in the past, are now quiet. Only God can now help us Serbs. I am fleeing because I am afraid. The way Albanians escaped from NATO bombardment, I am fleeing from KLA. They are burning Serb houses, killing and raping. My mother is disabled. She may have already been murdered. Albanian extremists are responsible for all of this. Let them kill me. I cannot take this bus, KLA stole my documents and money."
The driver shouts: "Madam, you don't need money for this bus. Either get in or stay. I have to leave." Verica gets on the bus in the end. "What is going to happen with my mother? May God help her. I have to think bout my child." The convoy lurches forward. Two Italian military jeeps are securing both ends of the convoy.
Photographers are begging the driver to slow down so that they can take photos of several Serb women who are beside themselves with pain. Albanians are shouting "good riddance!", some are taunting, some laughing or shouting something in Albanian. Less than ten minutes later, Albanians start to break into now empty Serb apartments and to loot property. They are doing all of that openly, in front of several foreign journalists who are lingering in a conversation with Italian soldiers who escorted us to hotel "Metohija".
(...) The village of Zegra near Gnjilane has about 80 Serb households and 700 Albanian. Several days ago, all the Serb houses were burnt, and the Serbs from Zegra found shelter in the neighboring Serb village of Donja Budriga. After Pasjane, this is the largest Serb village in the region.
I visited Donja Budriga together with Zahumlje-Hercegovina Bishop Atanasije and a team of the American TV "Focus". The entrances to the village are guarded by American soldiers. Earlier, they only guarded the hospital in Gnjilane. A few days ago, all Serb physicians were expelled from the hospital. This hospital is now ethnically clean: both physicians and patients are Albanian.
The last Serb patient, Miodrag Stankovic, born in 1960, from the village of Zegra, was released several days ago. More precisely, his mother went to get him out of the hospital when she found out that ethnic Albanian physicians refused to treat him. An Albanian, a patient, complained while I was standing next to his bed that he didn't have a lot of trust in the capabilities of Albanian physicians.
In Donja Budriga, everyone knows about Miodrag Stankovic's Golgotha. We are taken to the house where he is now recovering, living with his friends. There are a lot of refugees from Zegra. One of them speaks quietly:
"Serb houses in the village of Zegra were attacked by our neighbors Albanians on June 24 1999. Many of them wore KLA uniforms. A day before Momcilo Zivkovic (21) had been murdered. His father is here. Several Serbs were wounded. Miodrag Stankovic was abducted by KLA and taken to a nearby burned down house where he was tortured: his belly was cut with knives and he was severely beaten. We are grateful that the villagers from Donja Buduriga have taken us in."
Miodrag Stankovic speaks with difficulty, since his Albanian neighbors also cut his tongue: "One of them is Gzim Qerimi, from the village of Zegra, the other one Idriz Iseni, and I cannot remember the name of the third one, but I know him as well. All of them are our neighbors. While the French soldiers were here, we were safe. As soon as the Americans arrived, Albanians started attacking. Americans watched all of that impassively. Donja Budriga, a Serb village, has 300 households, Serb village of Pasjane 700 households, and Partes close to 400 Serb households... I've just remembered the name of the third torturer: Muslia. They cursed my Serb mother and beat me with an iron bar on my back. They tied my arms and legs. Iseni pulled out a knife and threatened to slaughter me. They forced me to speak Albanian because 'this is Albania, not Serbia'. Fortunately, suddenly American soldiers showed up and they let me go. Americans took me to the hospital in Gnjilane. Ethnic Albanian physicians refused to treat me there. They made an x-ray only when the Americans ordered them to do so..."
With American escort we visited the village of Zegra. Only five Serbs still live there, all of them elderly people. With Bishop Atanasije, we visited Miodrag Ljubisavljevic (66). "We are safe in the house. American soldiers check on us. We feel safe, but cannot go outside. We live as if under house arrest. My wife and I," says Miodrag.
(...) Many Serbs from Pec and the surrounding villages have found shelter in the monastery of Pecka Patrijarsija. They were expelled by Albanians from their homes. I am talking to Marta Miric: "I used to live in the village of Bijelo Polje, four kilometers from Pec. There were about 150 Serb households in that village. Today there are no more Serbs there. The Albanians burned everything. I am 73. A group of armed Albanians broke into my house. These were not my neighbors, I did not recognize them. They demanded that I give them weapons. I said I had none. They threatened to kill me. Then, they tied my hands, blindfolded me and, God forgive me, raped my daughter Marica. I could hear her cries. When they took the blindfold off, I found Marica, naked. They had cut her throat. She was 35. Before the Albanians left the house, they hit me several times in the face and with a rifle butt on my back. That happened on June 26 at 4p.m. I have one more daughter and four sons."
(...)We are driving through Kosovska Mitrovica. We stop the car and I ask a young Albanian what is burning in front of us. He speaks English well, only does not know how to translate "ciganska mahala" [Gypsy quarter]. He thinks that I am a British journalist. "We set the Gypsy quarter on fire. Why? In the war Gypsies were supporting Serbs. Hitler was right. It is not by chance that he wanted to exterminate them," the young man laughs pleased with himself. He says that he studied for two years in the USA.
Later that day we meet several Gypsy families. They are guarded by British soldiers. "Where are we going? To Serbia! If only we can get to Kursumlija. We fought together with Serbs, and now it's time to leave Kosovo together with Serbs. If we stay for another day in Pristina, it is not certain we would survive. Albanians are killing all non-Albanians," says the head of a Gypsy family from Suva Reka.
A Goran [Serb speaking Muslims from Gora and Opolje in the southwestern corner of Kosovo] man is with them. He has only bare necessities on his tractor. "Am I armed? Of course. Serbia armed me and only she can disarm me. I won't give my rifle to Albanians nor to NATO. Besides, they are nothing but bandits and occupiers. I am convinced that we shall return to Kosovo one day."
(...)With Momcilo Trajkovic, I visit the hospital in Pristina. We are escorted by British soldiers. All Serb physicians were expelled from the hospital. The British have now, it seems, realized their mistake and are trying to convince Serbs that they should trust them. Albanian physicians are trying to be polite but a Serb nurse tells us that that is just a show for foreigners.
Father Rade, a priest from Klina told me how his flock war expelled from their village. "When the Italian soldiers arrived on June 12, first they were trying to convince us that we were safe. After several days, they simply disappeared from the village. After that Albanians begun to attack day and night, and there was no help from anyone. There were hundred Albanian attacker for every our defender. Somewhat later, Italian soldiers reappeared and told us dispassionately: 'You can stay if you want, but we cannot guarantee your safety'. We asked them: 'Aren't you supposed to protect us?' They simply shrugged their shoulders. I am convinced that had not the representatives of the authorities and wealthy people left the village Serbs would have survived in spite of Albanian terror".
(...)That evening, I am again in Pristina. It is becoming increasingly dangerous for Serbs to move around the city. A Serb explained to me that he does not carry a watch because he is afraid that an Albanian could ask him for time. That would reveal that he does not speak "the official state language" and could end deadly for the Serb.
Some Serbs put Albanian flags on their cars. It is also recommended that Serbs carry a copy of Koha Ditore or some other Albanian newspaper in hand while walking around Pristina. All these precautions can save a life, but not necessarily. Recently, a Serb was murdered although he spoke excellent Albanian. Someone said that he was a policeman. He was executed at noon in the very center of Pristina. Later it turned out that he not only was not a policeman, but was in Belgrade all the time during the NATO aggression.
A sunny and warm day. With L. I head to Kosovo Polje. I am looking for Nikolaj Brugin, a spokesperson for the Russian troops in Kosovo. I find him in the health center. Half of the building is run by Russians, the other half by Serbs. Serbs are very complimentary about Russian physicians. Gypsies and Albanians also use the health center. I find out that the day before Nenad Jovanovic was murdered in the Serb village of Batuse. He was quickly transported to the Health center but lost too much blood on the way.
Zorica, a Serb and a nurse, says that the day before she went to the hospital in Pristina with Emina Ramadani, a Gypsy who was about to give birth. Albanian physicians refused to allow them into the hospital. "This is Albania. If you speak Serbian, go to Belgrade." They took her urgently to Kosovo Polje, but the baby was already dead on arrival. Emina Ramadani's brother is enraged: "Albanians are racists. Their physicians refuse to treat Serbs and Gypsies. Where else can that be? Only Hitler did that, and Albanians enjoy western support".
Dragica tells me that last night Albanians murdered three Serbs in the Pristina district Ulpijana. Just like that, they took them from their apartments, took them behind a building and shot them.