Serb Paramilitaries Seal Off Kosovo

Serb extremists are exacting their revenge on Kosovo Albanians linked to the political opposition or the West - including local aid workers, human rights groups and journalists.

Serb Paramilitaries Seal Off Kosovo

Serb extremists are exacting their revenge on Kosovo Albanians linked to the political opposition or the West - including local aid workers, human rights groups and journalists.

Gunfire and grenade explosions were heard across the city Friday morning before renewed daylight NATO air strikes cleared the streets again. Serbs ransacked the US Information Centre in Pristina, and left a charred shell.


The atmosphere is very tense. Despite reports that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas were planning to take the fight to Pristina, only the Serb paramilitary police (MUP) are present, on every corner.


The Serbian authorities have always controlled Kosovo, but now the stranglehold is tightened and escape is almost impossible. The roads are not safe. I spoke with a person who tried to escape Thursday with two children to Macedonia, but she was stopped by the military. It was her good luck that they told her to go back to Pristina. Knowing what the paramilitary troops do, we might not have heard from her again.


There are reports that the bodies of ten people, apparently killed trying to escape the village of Obranca, were found near the town of Prodjuvjo. Two more were found dead in a car on the road out of the town, said to be totally sealed off by Serb militia and paramilitary police. There have also been reports, impossible to confirm, of twenty teachers being killed, and of up to 20,000 people rounded up.


A local stringer for a leading international paper who was beaten up by Serb forces in Pristina's main Grand Hotel has now disappeared completely. He is a close friend of mine, and no one has seen or heard from him since Thursday afternoon when police were seen checking his vehicle.


I spent the first night of the bombing communicating to the outside world by Internet, via IRC (internet relay chat), and now feel very vulnerable. This is especially the case now that my colleagues in the international press have also left, along with most of their local stringers have gone with them. The foreign press, assaulted and intimidated by groups of paramilitary police who moved into their hotel for the purpose, escaped in a hastily organised 19-car convoy on Thursday.


I feel very much in danger and don't sleep in my house. To the militias journalists are the most hated race, for the time being, because they are reporting about what is going on. I can hardly locate any of my colleagues.


The rest of the local media has been virtually silenced. The offices of the Albanian language daily Koha Ditore, where a guard was shot dead by a mob shortly after the attacks began, has been shut down, and the printworks of the daily Kosova Sot destroyed by arsonists. The message is clear.


Reports of kidnappings and assaults are sketchy but frequent. An official from the opposition Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) was killed in Mitrovica, and the party HQ in Pristina burnt to the ground on in the early hours of Friday morning. A row of shops in Djakovica was burnt down by a mob and a 500-year-old mosque damaged by arsonists. Three bodies were later recovered, one reportedly headless.


On Friday the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported claims from a group of 174 refugees that 20 men had been massacred on Thursday in the village of Goden, near Dobrune, on the Kosovo-Albanian border.


Lawyer and human rights activist Bajram Kelmendi and his two sons were arrested at 3.00 am on Thursday morning. His wife Nekibe was beaten up and she has not heard from them since. Police continued to deny knowledge of his whereabouts. (Editors' note: Kelmendi and his sons were subsequently found dead, reported Human Rights Watch on Friday evening. Report.)


Meanwhile fighting continues across the province. There were reports that Serb military were trying to corner and surround Kosovo Liberation Army forces on Mount Cicavica, close to Drenica, the hub of KLA operations in the region. Heavy shelling has been reported around the mountain slopes until the morning hours.


Pristina's military airport at Slatina airport was badly hit, the detonations still deafening more than 20 kilometres from the town centre. Rocket fire from the air and from the ground was clearly visible. Smoke from the still blazing base was visible throughout Friday. A military base in the nearby village of Lukare and Grmia, and a police training centre at Hajvalija, were also hit.


Despite the presence of paramilitary police on ever corner in Pristina, the Kosovo Albanian political leadership is trying to keep a presence and stay active behind the scenes. Among the few to speak publicly was the leader of the Kosovo Albanian delegation at the Rambouillet peace talks last month, Hashim Thaci.


He told Albanian TV Tirana that he ''welcomed the NATO strikes'' and said they were a ''first step'' to implementing the settlement his side agreed in France. He also called for the various Kosovo Albanian parties represented at Rambouillet to stick to their original March 31 deadline for proposals on the formation of an interim government. He and other figures at Rambouillet, including Veton Surroi, editor of the now-closed daily Koha Ditore, are thought still to be in Pristina. But they are not in public, and none of the other leading Albanian political figures have been heard from for days.


The journalist's name is withheld to protect him from reprisals.


Macedonia, Kosovo
Support our journalists