Report on the Visit of Ambassador Scheffer to the Border Between The Former Republic of Macedonia and Kosovo April 1-2 and Refugee Accounts of Atrocities |
Released by the Department of State, Washington, DC,
April 7, 1999
On April 1-2, 1999, Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, David Scheffer, interviewed a large number of Kosovar refugees at Blace, Macedonia, about their experiences in recent days which led to their arrival in Macedonia. Ambassador Scheffer visited the border crossing at Blace on three occasions, including during the night of April 1 and 2, at the direction of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. He was able to interview refugees at length for a total of 15 hours without disclosing his identity and to move freely throughout the Blace camp. No press accompanied him during these interviews. Every interview attracted a crowd of additional refugees who contributed additional accounts of atrocities. An estimated 200 refugees engaged with Ambassador Scheffer during these interviews.
Ambassador Scheffer pursued three objectives during his visit to Macedonia. First, he ascertained as quickly as possible the humanitarian plight of Kosovar refugees on the Macedonia-Kosovo border and recommended steps to address their plight immediately. Second, he obtained first-hand the accounts of those fleeing the Serbian army and police assault on the civilian population of Kosovo in order to assess the criminal character of the Serb actions. Third, Ambassador Scheffer launched a reporting mechanism of refugee accounts for the near term so that the record of their ordeals can be quickly ascertained and provided to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) as lead information for the Prosecutor's investigation of criminal conduct in Kosovo. Ambassador Scheffer achieved progress with all of these objectives and continues to pursue the second and third objectives as the humanitarian relief operation intensifies.
Ambassador Scheffer reports that efforts are now well underway to maintain in the field a number of American personnel to interview Kosovar refugees about war crimes during the coming weeks. We are very encouraged that a number of Americans and others are willing to remain in the region to undertake war crimes work. Some U.S. personnel already are undertaking interviews. The reports compiled by the interviewers will be made available as soon as practicable to the ICTY. We also expect ICTY investigators will conduct refugee interviews.
As to the substance of the interviews Ambassador Scheffer conducted, there was remarkable consistency in the refugees' accounts. Of course, because of the actions of Serb forces in Kosovo, these accounts cannot be individually verified at the present time. But the large and growing number of consistent reports by the refugees is too significant either to ignore or to understate. Kosovars are fleeing Kosovo not because of the NATO bombing campaign, but because of the Serb assault on the civilian population. We believe these reports, coupled with what we are learning from other sources of information, clearly demonstrate that ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity are occurring in Kosovo. The widespread and systematic character of the criminal conduct of Serb military, paramilitary, and police units in Kosovo is among many of the indicators of genocide that we are seeing.
The pattern of Serb assaults on Kosovar civilians can be described as follows, based upon the interviews that Ambassador Scheffer had on April 1 and 2:
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- Serb forces, usually masked to hide their individual identities, barge into private Kosovar homes and order the occupants to leave, permanently, within 5 minutes. Derisive epithets include, "We will never see you here again. Kosovo is not yours." "Go to NATO. Let NATO house you now." "You asked for America. Now you go to America." In Pristina, the Serbs yelled, "There will be no Albanian Pristina after tonight." Pristina is being expunged neighborhood by neighborhood with seemingly calculated and planned efficiency.
- Kosovars are shaken down for all of their cash money and their jewelry. One refugee saw a Serb soldier yank a gold chain from a woman's neck, causing her to drop her baby on the pavement. Documents of identification are demanded and taken from the Kosovars. Homes are looted and then either torched or taken over for the Serb military's occupancy. Cars are either torched or stolen. The refugees are forced to drop on the road or at the train station any bags of belongings they may have had time to take with them. Thus they are without food or extra clothing or blankets when they cross the border.
- Those Kosovars who resist expulsion from their homes are killed. The basic Serb message is, "You leave or you die." Serb snipers are positioned around ethnically cleansed villages, and in the center of Pristina, to shoot at anyone who moves without permission. Those who depart from forced march lines are shot.
- Killings and beatings are common. Many refugees reported about individuals killed in their homes, either by gunfire or by torching the homes while they are inside. Executed bodies were seen on the streets of Pristina and other towns, with no apparent effort to remove them. Some refugees said they heard of massacres of many Kosovars. Others spoke of rapes and of women taken away by Serb forces, never to be seen again. Children are brutally shoved by Serb forces. One refugee child had a head wound.
- There was a forced march of thousands of Kosovars from Podujevo to the train station in Pristina. The paralyzed were either shot in their homes or were pushed in wheelbarrows. Serb forces told Podujevo residents, "You are the most resistant ones, so now you march." One refugee who sought to carry his mother was stopped, his mother shot dead, and then told by the Serb who shot the mother that, "Look, I've made your hike easier."
- The Pristina train station had tens of thousands of Kosovars crammed together, under orders not to move, subjected to the cold weather, and deprived of food and water. One refugee told of hearing gunshot sounds through the night. No one was permitted to move from the crowd. When a train arrived, Kosovars were packed into each car like sardines. One refugee called it, "the train of misery." Another refugee estimated there were 300 Kosovars in each train car, and the train had 21 cars. When one train arrived at Blace on April 2, Ambassador Scheffer witnessed thousands disembarking into the already overcrowded field.
- Many refugees confirmed that their attackers were their Serb neighbors, wearing black masks, because they recognized the attackers' voices. The refugees said their neighbors donned the characteristic black uniform at night and joined the Serb forces.
- Regarding NATO bombing, interviewed refugees unanimously supported it. All were asked if there were any Kosovar casualties from the bombing and they all said, "No." They said they did not consider themselves in danger from NATO bombing. Many said they witnessed the Serb forces torch stores and homes near a bombing target right after the bombing, claim the civilian damage was attributed to the NATO bombing, and even send in firemen and Belgrade film crews. One refugee witnessed a Kosovar being led by gun point before a Belgrade TV camera, with his family standing nearby, and asked, with gun pointed at him off-camera, whether he was fleeing Kosovo because of the NATO bombing. He said "Yes" on pain of death.
- At the hospital in Pristina, all Kosovar Albanian patients have fled except about six paralyzed patients, who one refugee said were later killed. All Kosovar doctors and nurses have fled. Only armed Serb doctors and nurses remain. It is impossible to bring Kosovar patients to the hospital anymore. A Kosovar surgeon said that a Kosovar civilian (Mr. Avnineziri) was admitted with abdomen and leg wounds and the Serbs claimed he was KLA. The Serbs guarded his room and beat him every night. His ultimate fate is unknown. The doctor also reported that a week earlier a prominent Kosovo doctor, Dr. Izet Hima, was shot dead in his home, apparently because he was a Kosovar surgeon.
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