Natasa KandicThe lesson of Orahovac
Aug 17, 2000 -- (CER) During NATO's bombing campaign, Yugoslav Army (VJ) units from Nis and Leskovac, Serbian police (MUP) units from Kraljevo and Pirot, Russian mercenaries, and volunteers from Serbia and Republika Srpska were stationed in Orahovac. Between 220 and 250 Albanian families were ordered out of Orahovac by the police and the Army. About 1000 Muslims from Orahovac left the town in fear. 60 Albanians were mobilized by force. 25 Albanians were in custody on 1998 charges of terrorism and subversive activity. The approximately 17,000 Albanians who remained in Orahovac spent the time from 24 March until KFOR's arrival hiding in their homes from Serbian police, army troops and paramilitaries.
Murders and disappearances of Albanians during NATO's bombing
On 27 March, four unidentified Serbs in black uniforms kidnapped Ilir Dina (21) and Qerma Rehu (18) in their BMW, while Ilir's brother, Ibrahim, managed to escape. The bodies of the abducted men were discovered by KFOR troops near the village of Trupec, on the road to Prizren, in late June.
On 28 March, Serb policemen and Army reservists searched the homes of the Topali family. They came again the next day and ordered the Topalis to vacate the houses. Two of the Topali brothers, Alush and Velija, left in a tractor and a car. Russian soldiers stopped them at the Hotel Park and demanded DM40,000 from them. Alush gave them all he had - DM17,300. They let him keep DM100 for his journey. According to Alush, they were stopped 20 meters away by police reservist Zoran Stanisic from Orahovac, who hit Velija twice with the rifle butt with great force, knocking him to the ground. Some policemen picked Velija up and took him in the direction of the hotel. At the entrance to the hotel, Velija was attacked by Stanko Levic and Aca Vitosevic, local Serbs in uniform. According to Alush, his brother died on the steps of the entrance to the hotel.
On 30 March, a group of Serb policemen and reservists, some of whom wore red berets, killed Qazim (45), Sabit (33) and Fahredin (27) Dul at a police checkpoint on the road leading out of the town. As on previous days, they were going with their father to their farm to feed the sheep. The police at the checkpoint looked at their ID cards and then gave the father back his ID card and ordered him to return to Orahovac. They tore up his sons' ID cards and started beating them before their father's eyes. The father heard one of his sons beg: "Boža, don't. You know us." While he was returning to town, the father heard several gunshots. Five days later, he found their charred bodies in Bajram Shala's unfinished house 100 meters from the farm, near the checkpoint where they had been stopped by the police.
Xhulsime Shehu (58) was killed in her home on 13 April. According to the testimony given by a witness (a member of the Shehu family), four policemen, two of whom were local Serb police reservists, entered the house. The witness heard a burst of automatic gunfire. After that, he saw two of the policemen come out of the house and start digging in the yard where the Shehu family had hidden DM70,000 in cash and DM20,000 worth of jewelry. The witness saw two of these four policemen several hours later, when they returned to inspect the crime scene.
On 22 April, unknown persons killed Muhedin and Munavera Tara, the parents of Ismet Tara, the KLA commander in Orahovac.
On 27 April, three policemen brought Hajdije Spahiju (33), in the presence of her mother, to the police station, allegedly for questioning. The policeman that drove the police vehicle was a local. When they entered the house, the policemen had a stack of file cards containing identity cards, including Hajdije Spahiu's identity card. After a while, her mother went to the police station and reported to policeman Dragan Dujovic that her daughter was missing. Two policemen took her statement and told her they would inform their superiors in Belgrade about it. After KFOR's arrival, the mother found Hajdije's grave in the village of Bela Crkva, in the yard of Nuhi Kelmendi. According to Kelmendi, he found her body in his yard on 1 June. She had been shot.
Four Serb policemen took Arben Derguti (28) from his home on 29 April, and he has not been seen or heard from since. He was driven away in a red van with Pristina license plates. According to Derguti's family, the uniformed men in the van included policeman Nenad Dujovic from Velika Hoca, the Orahovac police deputy commander, a drunken reservist with an earring and policeman Stanoje Vidovic (son of Budimir Vidovic) from Bosnia, who had been assigned to the Orahovac police station. The van was driven by a local Rom.
On 3 May, three policemen killed biology teacher Elmaze Kadiri and her mother-in-law Nurisha, and then set their house on fire. Neighbors managed to put the fire out before it engulfed the entire house. The family concluded from Elmaze's broken teeth and cut-off pieces of her ears that she had been cruelly tortured before she was shot to death. Three days after the murder, the police ordered Elmaze's husband and children to leave the house and go to Albania.
The brothers Sulejman (45) and Nekija (62) Dema, and Nekija's wife Shefkije (54) disappeared on 4 May. According to their family, Vekoslav Simic, an Orahovac physician and friend of the Demas, came to Sulejman asking for his brother Nekija, who owned an appliance-and-plumbing store, because he wanted to purchase some material for the health-care station of which he was the director. As Nekija was not at home, Sulejman and Dr Simic started looking for him. Witnesses say they saw all three of them, in the company of Yugoslav Army officers, in front of the store around 11 am. At around 12 pm, Dr Simic came to Sulejman's house again and said that some reservists had entered the store and led Nekija, his wife and Sulejman away, but that he knew their commanding officer and that they would soon be sent back home. Their fate is still unknown.
Jermin and Emsala Abazibra and their daughters - Sehare (25), Makvire (24) and Jasmine (14) - left their home on 5 May after a group of uniformed persons, including a local policeman, Boža Damjanovic, entered it and ordered them to pack up and leave for Albania. The Abazibras left their home in a Golf, which witnesses saw on the road to Prizren. Witnesses say that their car was followed by paramilitaries in a red van and a white Lada. Two local Serbs, Aca Vitosevic and Igor Antic, were reportedly among the paramilitaries. Several days later, the police in Orahovac confirmed to relatives that five members of the Abazibra family had been killed. The relatives were given two identity cards, two pairs of earrings and two wristwatches.
Seven members of the Sharku family, one of the richest in Orahovac, were killed in the night of 9 May. They were: Taibe (58), Ali (58), their daughter Azemina (36), her children Visar (13), Azra (10) and Venhara (8), and Egzona (8), daughter of Azemina's brother Haxhia. The bodies were discovered by Azemina's sister Iska, who visited her parents and sister on 10 May. The victims were shot. It seems that plunder was the main motive for this massacre. DM400,000 worth of cash and gold was taken from their home.
Ajvazi Seram was in the home of a neighbor, Ismail Bekeri, on 11 June, when five uniformed persons came in, saying they had to search the premises. Three of them took Bekeri to the basement, while two took Seram to the upper floor, where they beat him until he gave them DM500 and told them he had more money and gold in his house. They let him go home to retrieve this money and gold. Meanwhile, they killed Bekeri. The police waited for Seram to return, then took his money and gold, telling him they would not harass him any more.
On 11 June, five uniformed persons entered the house of Hidayet Cena and his sister Lirije, asking for money and gold. Lirije gave them her jewelry, but they wanted money. One of them took Lirije to the upper floor to find her money, while the others forced her brother to deliver cash as well. They killed Hidayet and inflicted a serious stab wound on Lirije.
On June 12, Jonuz Hoxha (13) - whose father was killed by Serb troops in July 1998 while fleeing Orahovac with a group of civilians - was killed by one of the pressure-activated mines laid by retreating Russian volunteers who had stayed in Orahovac during NATO's bombing campaign.
KLA violence in the presence of KFOR
KFOR entered Orahovac on 16 June 1999. Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) troops entered the town ahead of the international forces. They immediately began searching Serb houses and taking people out of their homes. More than 40 Serbs had disappeared by 10 July, and all of the Serbs from the houses and the 142 apartments in the center of the town were evicted. During this time, several Serbs were released after being questioned for days. One of them escaped from a truck, in which he was being taken, along with another three Serbs, to be shot by KLA members.
Everyone in Orahovac, including KFOR and the OSCE, knew at the time that the KLA was operating prisons in the former police station and in the building that formerly housed the Fire Brigade Center. A woman whose son, Boban, and husband, Predrag, had been led away from their home by KLA troops asked a German soldier named Stefan to go to the Fire Brigade Center building and look for them there. He went there and called them by their names. Predrag called back, and Stefan took him by the hand and led him out of the building. The KLA soldiers stopped Stefan from searching the other rooms in their prison.
By the end of December 1999, KFOR had found the bodies of four Serbs who had gone missing in June. There is no information about the other kidnapped Serbs. The last abduction took place on 3 January 2000. On that day, Radivoje Lukic (25) left the Serb section of Orahovac for the center of the town while under the influence of alcohol. He never returned.
The OSCE defends a local KLA commander
The abduction of five Serbs from Orahovac on 29 October 1999 revealed the fact that some Orahovac Serbs had already bought their way out of town with the help of a local Rom. The five Serbs - one of whom was Zvezdan Mojsic, the son of Ilija Mojsic, a former investigating magistrate in Orahovac - disappeared without trace in Djakovica, where they were to be received by another person, reportedly from the KLA, and transported to Montenegro. Relatives of the missing informed the Humanitarian Law Center that the abductees were being held by Hekuran Hoda, a KLA commander from Djakovica.
During a meeting with UNMIK and OSCE officials in Pristina on 8 November, HLC executive director Natasa Kandic informed them of the disappearance of the five Serbs from Orahovac and of the allegations made by their relatives.
The OSCE's human-rights department had the same information as did the relatives of the missing. The security section of the KFOR headquarters in Peč had acquired the same information independently, but they also believed they could locate the place where the KLA was holding the kidnapped Serbs. On 20 November, the local OSCE offices in Orahovac and Djakovica were ordered by UNMIK to investigate the abduction. Meanwhile, it was reported that the International Police had begun an investigation and that they were interviewing members of the family of the missing in Orahovac.
In Serbia, the displaced families of the missing asked the International Red Cross to establish contact with the abductors. The warden of the Nis prison allowed Ilija Mojsic, contrary to Serbian law, to talk to two Albanian inmates: Rexhep Oruqi from Orahovac, who was serving a five-year prison term, and the brother of Hekuran Hoda, arrested during NATO's bombing campaign. On 25 November, the Nis prison warden delivered a letter from Hoda to Barbara Davis, chief of staff of the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the FR Yugoslavia, asking her to take the letter to Hekuran Hoda in Djakovica. In this letter, which the warden read to the members of Davis' delegation, including Natasa Kandic, the prisoner asked his brother, Hekuran Hoda, to get information about the fate of the Serbs and to do everything to get them released. While delivering the letter, the warden said he would release Hoda and Oruqi in exchange for the release of Mojsic's son.
Hekuran Hoda replied to his imprisoned brother that he had nothing to do with that particular abduction.
On 30 November, the OSCE office in Djakovica asked the Humanitarian Law Center and its executive director, Natasa Kandic, to retract their report that Hekuran Hoda had been involved in the abduction of the five Orahovac Serbs.
As the OSCE is a part of the international administration in Kosovo, the HLC saw this request by the OSCE's Djakovica office as an act of pressuring a non-governmental organization in its investigations into violations of the rights of minorities, and it informed the human-rights section of the OSCE office in Pristina about this. To all intents and purposes, the conduct of the local OSCE office in Djakovica has shown that its employees are not competent to carry out the human-rights protection mandate given to the OSCE, and that their work is under the control of local political and military groups.
In connection with the abduction of magistrate Mojsic's son: in December 1999, Serbian police stopped Silva Oruqi at the crossing to Serbia and took her in for questioning. She was on her way to Nis, where she had intended to visit her husband, the imprisoned Rexhep Oruqi. She was interrogated by policemen who had worked in Orahovac until the retreat of Serbian forces from Kosovo.
UNMIK had not revealed the results of its investigation as of mid-January 2000. In the meantime, the KFOR command in Peč received information that three of the five kidnapped Serbs had been released shortly after being abducted, and that they had been transferred to Montenegro. The HLC investigated these allegations and found them to be nothing but rumors.
The list of "Serbian war criminals"
The local KLA group from Orahovac drew up a list of "Serbian war criminals" and delivered it to KFOR in June. In one of its reports, AFP quoted KLA official Selim Gashi as saying that the KLA's list included the Serbs who had planned and carried out the massacre of 300 people in the villages of Velika Krusa, Bela Crkva and Celina. Former Orahovac mayor Andjelko Kolasinac was at the top of the list, along with Zlatko Perovic, a policeman from the village of Zočiste, and Zoran Stanisic, leader of the local unit of the Tigers paramilitary organization, whose commander was Zeljko "Arkan" Raznjatovic. By the end of 1999, a total of 14 Serbs from that list had been arrested. In December, they were transferred from the Prizren prison to the prison in Mitrovica.
According to the vast majority of local Albanians, all of the Serbs from Orahovac and the nearby village of Velika Hoca, both those who have fled and those who have stayed in town, took part in crimes against Albanians, which is why the Albanians cannot coexist with them any longer. They say that the Serbs who were killed or abducted after KFOR's arrival were punished for their crimes. However, once the conversation becomes more personal, local Albanians start speaking from their heart, admitting that "it's hard for them [their Serb neighbors], because they have to suffer for what others did before fleeing."
Accountability for the persecution of minorities
Orahovac is an example of how the international administration - UNMIK, the OSCE and KFOR - has supported the KLA's violence most openly, on the principles that "every Serb is a war criminal" and that anyone has the right to accuse, try and sentence a Serb. Even though their highest representatives, including chief administrator Bernard Kouchner, have always been careful to condemn every single murder of a Serb, Rom or Muslim, they have also always noted that the international community understands very well why a murder has been committed, calling on the perpetrators and the entire Albanian community to forgive and forget. This is how crimes - murders, abductions, forcible evictions or punishments for using the Serbian language - have come to be seen as extreme emotional reactions on the part of members of the Albanian ethnic community to a decade of repression at the hands of the Serbian authorities, which has consequently rendered these criminal acts unpunishable.
By accepting this interpretation of political and ethnic violence, the international community has pardoned any crime against members of ethnic minorities.
Serbia: suspects in murders of Albanians detained
Igor Radočaj (31) from Republika Srpska, a volunteer in the Yugoslav Army, was arrested on 15 June 1999, on suspicion of murdering two Albanians - Ismail Bekeri and Hidajet Cena - on 11 June in Orahovac, and of stealing 400 Deutsche marks and 1500 Yugoslav dinars from them. Several dozen Yugoslav Army volunteers protested Radočaj's arrest outside the District Court building in Nis on 12 August 1999, and demanded his release. Belgrade media quoted these volunteers as saying that Radočaj was a member of a 70-man unit of volunteers from Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Republika Srpska, Russia, Italy and France who fought in Kosovo. It is not known if Radočaj has been indicted.
On 10 November of last year, the District Prosecutor's Office in Požarevac indicted police reservist Boban Petrovic (32) from Velika Hoca, near Orahovac, for the 9 May 1999 murder of Ismail Durguti (60). After being beaten up by Yugoslav Army members, Durguti was allegedly killed by Petrovic at Ria, a village between Orahovac and Velika Hoca. Djordje Simic, the police officer from whom Petrovic is said to have taken the official-issue pistol with which he killed Durguti, has been charged with attempted murder. Boban Petrovic is also accused of murdering Shefkije and Sezari Miftari outside their home in Orahovac. No trial date has yet been set.
The future of the Orahovac Serbs
The Serbs in Orahovac live in great fear that their lives may be in danger with every step they take toward the center of a town that once belonged to both Serbs and Albanians. The Serbs who were company managers and political officials have escaped to safety in Serbia, where they now "encourage" the Serbs who are still in Orahovac to stay there. The remaining Serbs include people who are waiting for the next convoy to leave town but also people who are struggling to ensure the survival of their families. The elementary school opened with UNMIK's help and attended by about 200 children, from the first to eighth grades, is the first social and cultural institution given to the Serbs.
The bus that now operates between Orahovac and Mitrovica once a week, with KFOR's help, allows Serbs to leave Orahovac unless they are on the list of alleged war criminals, and to return to their homes safely. The Orahovac Serbs have agreed, in the name of good will, that their delegation should visit prisons in Serbia and inform the Serbian public about this. Meanwhile, on 5 January, the District Court in Požarevac released ten Orahovac Albanians who had spent 17 months in prison without trial.
The Serbs who are struggling to survive make no secret of the fact that Serb forces committed crimes against Orahovac Albanians. They do not hide their shame for the humiliation the Albanians were subjected to during NATO's bombing. The military and police authorities prohibited the Serbs from selling bread and flour to the Albanians. Many, however, did so secretly. Since then, the Orahovac Serbs have gathered at the Orthodox Church and demanded justice: "Let the law, equal for all, replace rumors and reports against alleged war criminals."
The Author is Executive Director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade,