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Kosovars Split Over Milosevic Trial

Many Kosovo Albanian victims of Milosevic's policies are reluctant to testify against him.
By Adriatik Kelmendi

Drita was adamant. She wouldn't go to The Hague to testify against Slobodan Milosevic. "There's no reason to," she insisted.


Her decision seems incredible given that Milosevic's forces executed her son, daughter, and husband three years ago.


They were among 48 Kosovo Albanian civilians shot by a Serbian firing squad on March 26, 1999, at a restaurant in Suhareka, in south-east Kosovo.


Drita, not her real name, and another son were wounded in the execution, but left for dead. They escaped by jumping from the truck loaded with the victims that was heading for Serbia.


The passports of relatives and neighbours killed in the atrocity were found two years later in a mass grave in Batajnica, nearby Belgrade.


Although the woman has been summoned to testify against the former Yugoslav president, she will not be going.


"There are many like Milosevic. He is not the only one to be blamed," she said. "Where are his henchmen who fired on us? They are free."


Many Albanians share her anger that Milosevic is the only leading figure from the old regime in Belgrade to face justice. The courts in Kosovo have tried only about 15 war crimes suspects.


Florence Hartman, spokesperson for the tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, says just 60 per cent of the 150 Kosovars who've provided evidence against Milosevic have agreed to testify in person at his trial.


According to the Council of Human Rights and Freedoms in Pristina, some 10,000 Albanian civilians perished in the 1998-1999 conflict, while another 3,000 remain unaccounted for. Altogether around a million people were forced from their homes.


About 100 km from Drita's home, in the Albanian village of Qyshk, Isa Gashi was putting the finishing touches to his new house.


The Serbs razed his farm house on May 14, 1999, after opening fire on him and 11 other villagers. Only he survived. They killed another 42 Albanians from the neighbouring villages of Pavlan and Zahaq.


Gashi has watched the pre-trial sessions of the Milosevic case with disgust. "That murderer is enjoying a comfortable cell and makes fun of the court," he said. "If they won't do to him what he did to us, they might as well set him free." Unlike Drita, he is ready to testify " for the sake of justice".


Nekibe Kelmendi, secretary-general of the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, headed by Ibrahim Rugova, the largest party in Kosovo, will be attending the trial as an official observer.


But she also has personal reasons for being there. Milosevic's henchmen murdered her husband, the well-known lawyer Bajram Kelmendi, along with her two sons, Kushtrim and Kreshnik, on the day NATO air strikes began.


"The conviction of Milosevic and other indicted criminals and the prosecution of Yugoslavia for genocide is the only thing that will satisfy the survivors," she said.


Hysni Berisha, of the Victims Identification Commission, shares her opinion. " The Milosevic case should lead to the trial of all those who committed crimes in Kosovo," he said. Kosovars Split Over Milosevic Trial


"This would help to prepare the ground for an eventual reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians."


The more time passes, the more difficult that reconciliation seems to be.


Gashi often goes back to his old farm, separated by a river from the Serbian enclave of Gorazdec.


"Everyday I think of going over there to look for those who murdered us," he said. "They followed the orders of Milosevic. As long as these criminals remain free, I could not bring myself to say 'Hello' to someone in Serbian."


Adriatik Kelmendi is an editor at the Pristina daily Koha ditore


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