Human Rights Watch reports organized rape by Serbs in Kosovo

BRUSSELS, Mar 21, 2000 -- (AFP) Serb and Yugoslav officers were responsible for the organized rape of Albanian Kosovar women during NATO's bombing campaign against Belgrade's forces last spring, Human Rights Watch charged in a report published Tuesday.

The humanitarian organisation recorded 96 cases of rape committed by Serb and Yugoslav troops just before and during the 11-week campaign of air strikes led by NATO to halt repression of ethnic Albanians in the southern Yugoslav province.

But it estimates the number of sex crimes committed between March and June 1999 is much higher, and asked an international warcrimes tribunal to charge not only those directly responsible, but also their commanding officers.

The report says the rapes were not rare and isolated incidents, but were used deliberately to terrorize the civilian population, extort money, and push people from their homes.

All the cases in the report were committed by at least two men, it noted.

"These were not occasional acts committed by a few madmen," stressed Regan Ralph, director of the group's womens' rights division.

"Rape was used as an tool of war in Kosovo and should be punished as such. The men who committed these horrible crimes should be brought to justice," he added.

A 22-year-old rape victim testified how she was raped by a soldier: "...he told me to undress and suck on his thing. I didn't know what to do. He took my head and drew it toward him. He started beating me. I lost conscience. When I came around, I saw him on top of me. I felt a great pain ..."

"They tortured me. Because I was pregnant, they asked me where my husband was ... One of them told another soldier 'Hit her and make her abort'," said a 21-year-old victim two months from giving birth.

The rapes took place in the victims' homes, and most were committed by Serb paramilitaries "who wore varied uniforms and often bandanas, long knives, long hair and beards."

"In several cases, victims and witnesses identifed the perpetrators as belonging to the Serb special police, in blue camouflage uniforms, or Yugoslav Army soldiers in in green military uniforms," the report said.

But it did not confirm reports relayed by NATO of camps where Yugoslav and Serb troops raped women in Pec or Djakovica, two small cities in western Kosovo.

And it added that since NATO forces deployed in Kosovo last June, "rapes of Serb, Albanian, and Roma (gypsy) women, sometimes by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK or KLA), have been recorded."

The KLA was officially demilitarised by NATO-led peacekeepers in September and transformed into a civilian disaster response unit, the Kosovo Protection Corps.

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