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Kosovo Expulsions Evidence Heard

Prosecutors try to prove that Yugoslav army and police forces carried out mass evictions of Kosovo civilians.
By Caroline Tosh
More witnesses in the war crimes trial of six senior Serbian military and civilian officials have testified this week about the events surrounding the expulsion of civilians in Kosovo seven years ago.

Prosecutors charge the defendants with crimes against humanity, but show that their alleged actions were systematic and widespread, and directed against the Kosovo Albanian civilian population.

From the beginning of the trial, the prosecution has argued that forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, FRY, and Republic of Serbia were behind the expulsions. Over the last two weeks, they brought to court a number of Kosovo Albanians who witnessed the evictions to support these claims.

Last week, the trial chamber heard testimonies from Kosovo Albanians living in the Mitrovica and Srbica municipalities. This week, witnesses from Pristina provided accounts of events which took place there in March 1999.

The indictment against former Serbian president Milan Milutinovic, former deputy prime minister of Yugoslavia Nikola Sainovic, former Yugoslav army, VJ, chief of staff Dragoljub Ojdanic, and police and VJ officials Sreten Lukic, Nebojsa Pavkovic and Vladimir Lazarevic includes a section on crimes allegedly committed in Pristina.

It states that on March 24, 1999 and continuing through to the end of May 1999, Serb police forced Kosovo Albanians out of the Kosovo capital, killed a number of people in the process, and sexually assaulted several women.

Emin Kabashi, an Albanian academic who claims he was forced to leave Pristina in 1999, testified that the alleged expulsions of the Albanian civilians were carried out by “special police”.

But when asked by the prosecutor to explain what he meant by special forces, he said the men were dressed differently from regular Serb police.

“They had painted faces, some wore masks,” he said.

However, he testified that in Dragodan - the area of Pristina where he says he and his family stayed for three days after being forced to flee their home - the Serb military were working “together” with these special forces.

“Usually the people were expelled by the police, but in Dragodan, the army was there too,” he said.

In his statement, he described how he was ordered to leave the city by Serb police, before being taken in a convoy to Pristina train station, where he remained for three days and three nights, waiting for his family to arrive.

There, he said, he witnessed people being killed in the chaos that ensued.

“People were cursing each other. Sometimes they got run over by the trains,” he said.

John Ackerman, the defence counsel for Nebojsa Pavkovic, who was commander of the VJ at the time, tried to discredit Kabashi’s testimony by drawing attention to his membership of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

Ackerman asked the witness about his May 2002 appearance at the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who died in The Hague’s detention centre in March this year.

During that testimony, Kabashi apparently said that the only way his people would win freedom was “by way of the gun”.

This week, the witness confirmed that this was true.

Nazalie Bala, a Kosovo Albanian who worked for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, mission in Pristina in 1999, also testified this week about the expulsions of civilian Albanians from the Kosovo capital.

“We were forced to leave by the army, the police, and other forces that were present at the time,” she said.

She described how she was forced out of Kosovo on March 29 1999, when a VJ officer and a local traffic police officer came to her home and told her to leave her apartment.

As she told it, she and other civilian Albanians were marched to Pristina train station, where a combination of soldiers and police officers stood guard.

“The train was surrounded by Serb forces, police, army and forces that I’d never seen in my life before,” she said.

In her testimony this week, Bala also said that the Albanian civilians were bundled onto a train and transported to the border of Macedonia. There she continued her work for the OSCE, by taking statements from Albanian refugees about their experiences during the alleged expulsions.

She also said that before she was expelled from her home, she had observed the events unfolding in certain areas of the city from her roof, with the aid of binoculars.

The witness further testified that she saw houses burning, army tanks shelling the city and Serb forces removing people from their homes.

Mihajlo Bakrac, the defense counsel for Vladimir Lazarevic, who was chief of staff of the Pristina Corps in 1999, suggested that it was not possible she could have seen events happening so far away, even with the help of binoculars.

But Bala stood by her statement.

This week, another witness - who was testifying under protective measures - seemed to support the defence argument that the alleged Pristina expulsions were carried out by Serb paramilitaries, and not the official forces.

But he went on to testify that the regular Serb police did nothing to defend the Albanian civilians.

“The normal police were not the ones who expelled us from our homes,” he said.

“I would say it was the paramilitaries who expelled us, but on the street outside there were regular policemen and they did nothing to protect us.”

Speaking with the use of voice distortion equipment, the witness told how he was a shop owner in Pristina at the time of the alleged expulsions.

He recounted that in April 1999, while he was at work, he was phoned by a neighbour who insisted he come home immediately. He arrived to find his wife in a state of distress and asked his neighbour what had happened.

“She told me, ‘Your wife was raped by three paramilitaries and then they left,’ ” he said.

Dragan Ivetic, the defence counsel for Sreten Lukic, who was head of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs, MUP, at the time, attempted to show that the police the man claims were behind the expulsions were not officers.

The witness, who admitted that he had trouble distinguishing between certain colours, was asked to describe what these police wore. He said they had red hats and black masks, and not the regular police uniforms.

Earlier in the week, Abdullah Salihu, an Imam from the village of Chirez in the Srbica region of Kosovo, testified about events there in 1999.

He was asked about his statement given to prosecutors in October 2000 in which he claims he was beaten and forced to work as a labourer for Serb forces.

Ackerman, Pavkovic’s defence counsel, attempted to discredit the witness by suggesting Salihu was sympathetic to the KLA.

He quoted excerpts of his testimony given in the Milosevic trial in May 2002 in which he apparently said the KLA were not dangerous, and also that he regretted not becoming a KLA member.

When asked by the defence lawyer whether this was still his position, Salihu admitted it was.

But responding to the prosecutor’s request to explain his position, he later said,

“If I’d been a member of the KLA, I would not have been captured... They didn’t capture any members of the KLA alive, and I would be in a better position now if I had been a member.”

The trial continues next week.

Caroline Tosh is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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