Innocent Serbs stalked by avengers

Kosovo: Balkan cycle of revenge and hate rolls on, reports John Sweeney

The Observer - Sunday October 24, 1999

Who won the war in Kosovo? Not the old Serb man from a village near Prizren who was found last month, bound, gagged and beaten to death. He was nearly 97.

Not Mr and Mrs Simic, 86 and 77 years old respectively, a devoted Serb couple, both shot dead in their home. No money was stolen, indicating that ethnic hatred was the only motive at work.

Not the Serb woman who had comforted a mutilated Albanian girl - almost certainly raped by Serb militia - as she bled to death. The Good Samaritan was cruelly rewarded. In the chaos following Nato's arrival in Kosovo, when power seeped from Serb paramilitaries to their Albanian mirror-images, her husband, Pedrag, and son Boban disappeared from Orahovac in south-western Kosovo. Boban Dedic had been a health worker, and a good one, who rose above hate to nurse Serb and, where possible, Albanian alike.

German Nato troops heard a rumour that the two Serbs were being held by the Kosovo Liberation Army in their new headquarters, the old police station. Is Pedrag Dedic here, asked a German officer? No, said the KLA. And then a voice screamed out from the cells beneath the station: 'I'm here, I'm here.'

Mrs Dedic, the Good Samaritan, got her husband back, but her son has not been seen since 18 June . She said: 'I wish I could stand in the middle of the town square and apologise to the Albanian people for what we did to them.' Her son is one of 70 Serbs missing in the Prizren area alone, all by now almost certainly dead, since Nato's arrival on 12 June. Forty more Serbs in the Prizren area have been killed. The figures for the capital, Pristina, are thought to be worse, but have not been publicised by Nato's K-For mission due to embarrassment.

A human rights worker in Kosovo says the number for the province since June is almost 1,000 Serb dead and missing, nearly all elderly and innocent of war crimes.

The worker told The Observer : 'There is a great sense of disappointment among the international community here at the way the minorities have been treated. We came back thinking that this country would be different. It hasn't turned out like that.'

The revenge of ethnic Albanian extremists is the product of the enduring agony of Kosovo. For 10 years, Serb extremists loyal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ruled Kosovo with an iron fist. The Serb one tenth of the population repressed the Albanian nine-tenths. As the 'terrorists' of the Kosovo Liberation Army, known as the UCK in Albanian, gathered strength from 1997, Serb repression became crueller. Around 2,000 Albanians were butchered in the months before October last year, when monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) were sent in. Victims included a mother and a four-year-old boy, shot in the back in Orahovac, and defenceless old men shot in the neck.

With the OSCE in place, and the world watching, killings decreased dramatically, but when peace talks at Rambouillet collapsed, things went from bad to evil. The first Nato strikes against Belgrade triggered Operation Horseshoe, to push more than a million ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo. More than 10,000 were butchered; more than 800,000 fled for sanctuary in Albania. On 12 June, Nato came in to Kosovo, and Serb forces and death-squads fled to Serbia proper. They left around 100,000 Serbs and Roma, some of whom had joined in the anti-Albanian terror.

It in this context that revenge on Serbs and Roma in Kosovo are taking place.

'What is so pitiful is that the Serbs left behind are not the killers. They're old people, or those with a clean conscience,' said Frank Ledwidge, an OSCE human rights monitor in Kosovo.

Now Albanian extremists murder the defenceless. Three weeks ago they launched grenades into a Serb-only market, killing two pensioners. Two weeks ago Albanian mourners at the funeral of massacre victims seized a Serb passer-by and beat him to death. The cycle of violence has not stopped.