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Witness Describes Serbian Police Attack

Says brother-in-law killed during assault by men she believed to be Serbian officers.
By Rory Gallivan
A Kosovo Albanian witness in the trial of former Serbian police chief Vlastimir Djordjevic testified this week that the Serbian police attacked her neighbourhood a few hours after NATO’s bombing campaign against Serbia began in 1999.

Djordjevic is accused of taking part in a “systematic campaign” against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian population, which led to the murder and deportation of about 800,000 ethnic Albanians from the province between around January 1, and June 20, 1999.

The indictment against Djordjevic details crimes allegedly committed by Yugoslav and Serb forces in the Gjakove municipality from March 24, including the expulsion of ethnic Albanians from their homes and the burning of shops and houses owned by them. NATO’s bombing of former Yugoslavia under Operation Allied Force began that night.

This week, Shyhrete Dula, a housewife from Gjakove, said that at about midnight on the night of March 24, she heard a commotion outside her house and men speaking in Serbian.

She said that about 30 men wearing camouflage police uniforms entered the yard of her house, shouting and swearing.

As soon as she heard them approach, she fled the house with her family by the back yard, she said.

Dula described how she sought refuge in a nearby house from where she could see her own house burning.

“I could see that it was entirely burnt; it was all in flames,” she said.

According to the witness, she returned to her neighbourhood on the morning of March 25.

“The whole neighbourhood was levelled to the ground. Everything… was burnt down,” the witness said.

Dula said that the minaret of the area’s Hadum mosque had been destroyed, and added that she also saw damage to the outside of the mosque’s walls.

The indictment against Djordjevic says the Hadum mosque was among several cultural sites in Gjakove to be substantially damaged or totally destroyed on March 24.

Prosecution lawyer Priya Gopalan then submitted as evidence a photo which the witness said depicted the part of the street where she lived immediately after the attack on her neighbourhood, as well as a photo of the damaged mosque.

Gopalan then asked Dula to describe the condition of her house when she returned on the morning after she and her family fled.

“I saw a complete ruin,” she said. “Only the policemen that night could have caused that ruin.”

Dula also described seeing the dead body of her 32-year old brother-in-law in the ruins of his home, which was next door to her house and which had also been destroyed during the attack.

“I saw his body with my own eyes; [he] was completely massacred,” she said.

The witness went on to say that she, her husband and their three children joined a convoy of people leaving Gjakove for Albania after taking shelter in a refuge for eight days.

The convoy, which passed two checkpoints manned by policemen, was initially escorted by police who caused damage to buildings as they left Gjakove, she said.

Dula said that she was asked for her identity card at both checkpoints by the police but it had been burned in the fire in her house.

Other members of the convoy had their identity cards taken away from them, she said, adding that the army escorted the convoy during the later stages of its journey to Albania.

“The reason we left Kosovo was to live, to survive; there was no other way for us to live than to escape,” the witness said.

“We were escaping from the police. They expelled us,” she added.

The indictment against Djordjevic says that thousands of Kosovo Albanians were directed to Albania by Yugoslav and Serb forces along pre-arranged routes. Most of them had their identification papers seized by the forces, it says.

During the cross-examination, Djordjevic’s defence lawyer asked the witness at what time the NATO attacks against targets in Gjakove began on the evening of March 24.

“Some time after 8pm. I don’t know if this is the exact time,” she said.

The defence counsel then asked her about a previous statement she made in which she had said it had been quiet until midnight that night, when she heard noises in the street.

“So when you were saying it was quiet up until midnight, you didn’t refer to the NATO air strikes?” he asked.

Dula said that she had heard some noise from the air strikes and that her family stayed in the house after this.

The defence lawyer also asked her whether the men who came into her yard on March 24 could have been wearing military, rather than police uniforms.

The witness said she was positive that they were wearing the same camouflage uniform worn by the Serbian police. However, she then confirmed that she only saw one of the men wearing this police uniform.

The lawyer asked her if it was possible that the men had been evacuating her house because of the fire. She said it was not.

He then questioned her about seeing her house on fire after she had fled to her neighbour’s house.

He asked her if the explosions she heard from her house could have been caused by NATO air strikes.

“I think they were caused by the group of police that entered the yard. That part of the town was destroyed by them,” she said.

The defence lawyer then asked the witness if she knew how her brother-in-law had been killed.

She confirmed that he had a wound to his stomach, although she said she did not know what had caused it.

“All I know is that we found bullet casings and holes on the wall,” she said.

He also asked her to clarify a previous statement she had made about seeing a group of young men running between the yards of neighbouring houses as she was taking refuge in her neighbour’s house.

The witness said they were most probably running from the police and were wearing tracksuits. She denied that they could have been members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, saying that they were running for their lives and made no attempt to defend themselves.

Dula also denied that any of her family members were in the KLA.

The defence lawyer then asked her if she could confirm that she was not forced to join the convoy of people leaving Gjakove.

“We decided ourselves to join the crowd,” she said.

Rory Gallivan is an IWPR contributor in London.

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