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Some Serbs Quit Kosovo as NATO Issues Warnings

October 2, 1998

Article from: The Washington Post
Article date: October 2, 1998
Author: Guy Dinmore

Serbian artillery fell silent across much of central and southern Kosovo today for the first time since the government declared victory Monday over ethnic Albanian rebels and announced an end to military operations in the province.

Against a background of heightened warnings by NATO of possible military intervention, several hundred Serbian police and federal Yugoslav army troops were seen pulling out of southern Kosovo. This followed a partial withdrawal Wednesday from the central Drenica region, a former stronghold of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which has been fighting for Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant republic.
Large numbers of Interior Ministry police appear to have left Kosovo altogether, while army tanks have rumbled back to their garrisons. Some units have remained, however, and there were unconfirmed reports of fighting near the western town of Klina. The Serbian authorities have said they reserve the right to retaliate against “terrorist” attacks by Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas. But the thud of artillery shelling and billowing smoke from burning homes that could be heard and seen in the Drenica region and in the south earlier in the week were absent today.

“There’s a big movement out of the area. . . . A lot of armor has gone back to garrison, a lot of MUP {police} have left Kosovo,” said one Western diplomatic monitor. “But it is normal to have a rear guard.” The diplomat said it would take several days for a complete pullout.

The state-run Yugoslav news agency Tanjug quoted police sources as saying “anti-terrorist” police units had returned to their bases on Wednesday and today, the Reuters news agency reported. “Only police units needed for maintaining public law and order and securing certain {roads} have remained on the ground,” Tanjug said. In Washington, however, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said Serbian claims that military activities had ceased were “blatantly untrue.”

“The shelling by Yugoslav authorities and police forces continued today in several regions, including artillery firing,” Rubin said. “So, despite the claims of the Serbian authorities that the Kosovo conflict is now over and it is calm, it is demonstrably not calm.”

Mounting what one Western ambassador called a “peace offensive,” senior Serbian officials have urged thousands of ethnic Albanians made homeless in the seven-month conflict to return to their villages while guaranteeing their safety. The Serbian authorities also are stressing the need for a political solution that would restore some autonomy to Kosovo’s 2 million people but stop short of meeting the ethnic Albanian majority’s demand for independence, which the United States and other Western governments oppose. “But is this credible and has it come too late to stop NATO?” the ambassador said,, noting that reports this week of alleged Serbian massacres of civilians dramatically had increased support among Western governments for military action. The conflict has created an estimated 300,000 refugees, most of them ethnic Albanians. Many have found shelter in other towns or over the border in Albania, Macedonia or Montenegro, Yugoslavia’s other republic. But tens of thousands of refugees are believed to be still living in the open with the harsh winter looming. The calm that prevailed today allowed ethnic Albanians in this southern hill village to bury their dead, search for missing relatives and begin to put their shattered lives in order after Serbian police forces rampaged through their settlement. The bodies of five men, two with mutilated faces, were brought to the local mosque and then put to rest, facing Mecca. Most Albanians are Muslims. Vranic was a refuge last week for thousands of people who had fled a government offensive against the guerrillas. More than 200 cars, tractors and trucks laden with belongings were backed up along a dirt track winding into the valley beyond. Residents said government forces started shelling the village over the weekend, gutting farmhouses. Police then moved in on Sunday and ordered everyone to come down from the hills, while guaranteeing their safety. Astrad Kolgaze, a 22-year-old resident, said police separated several hundred men from the women and children. He alleged three men were led away and killed. The others were forced to hold up three fingers in the Serbian nationalist salute and shout “Serbia, Serbia” before being taken to a prison in the town of Prizren. He said he and others were beaten, given electric shocks and interrogated about the Kosovo Liberation Army. After 48 hours, with no food, about 200 of the detained men were released. Those from Vranic returned to their homes. “We were told if you don’t surrender your weapons within 10 days then your village will be destroyed,” Kolgaze said. In Vranic, police torched scores of cars and tractors and trashed their contents. A dead horse lay on its back attached to an overturned cart. One man had put a warning sign next to a wall where a small green mine could be seen under rocks. While the men were taken away, the women and children were herded into the local school and kept there overnight. Police then took many of them in trucks to the nearby town of Suva Reka, where they found shelter with local residents. Marina, 25, was among women and children caught by police at night as they huddled around their campfire on the wooded slopes. “Police took the prettiest girls away. It was dark. I heard screaming,” she said. Police officers were drunk and forced the women to dance with them, she said. “They put knives to our throat and told us to say where were the {guerrillas} or they would come back and kill us.” Villagers said some police wore bandannas, black hats and camouflage paint. Diplomats said such special units were believed responsible for a series of atrocities in Kosovo, committed with the intention of terrorizing civilians into breaking their links with the rebels.

 

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