U.S. Department of State
Other State Department Archive SitesU.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released online from January 1, 1997 to January 20, 2001. Please see www.state.gov for current material from the Department of State. Or visit http://2001-2009.state.gov for information from that period. Archive sites are not updated, so external links may no longer function. Contact us with any questions about finding information. NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.
U.S. Department of State

Department Seal

Erasing History: Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo

Report released by the U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC,
May 1999
Flag bar


Since the withdrawal of the KVM on March 19, 1999, Serbian military, paramilitary, and police forces in Kosovo have committed a wide range of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. This report briefly reviews seven categories of such crimes: forced expulsion of Kosovars from their homes; burning and looting of homes, schools, religious sites and healthcare facilities; detention, particularly of military-age men; summary execution; rape; violations of medical neutrality; and identity cleansing.

1) Forced Expulsions

The regime of President Slobodan Milosevic is conducting a campaign of forced migration on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War. Serbian forces appear to have driven the vast majority of Kosovars from their homes, trapping many within Kosovo, while pushing even larger numbers over Kosovo's borders. The Serbian authorities' claim that the refugee crisis is the result of popular fear of NATO airstrikes is belied by the regime's redeployment of its military forces in the weeks prior to its rejection of the Rambouillet settlement. Refugees consistently report that they fled their homes not because of any concern about NATO airstrikes, but because Serbian forces threatened them at gunpoint.

In contrast to last fall, when attacks on civilians by Serbian security forces generally occurred in small villages, this spring VJ and MUP units have apparently joined with recently armed Serb civilians to expel their neighbors from both villages and the larger towns of Kosovo. Serbian forces reportedly have been going house-to-house to rob Kosovars before looting and burning their homes. Before allowing ethnic Albanians to flee Kosovo, some Serbian officials have forced them to sign disclaimers saying that they left voluntarily. The fact that many of the places targeted reportedly had not been the scene of any previous fighting or KLA activity, indicates that these expulsions were part of a systematic effort to depopulate the region of Kosovar Albanians.

Current status of IDPs. About 600,000 internally displaced persons are now struggling to survive in Kosovo. They are scattered throughout the province, often seeking shelter in isolated forests and mountain valleys. Many have not been able to move very far from their home villages. Typically, they are found in encampments with a combination of tents, crude shelters, tractors, flat-bed trailers, farm tractors, and automobiles. In some areas, there are reports of severe shortages and hunger, particularly in the mountain encampments.

Major clusters of IDPs can be found at the following sites (see figure 4):

Current status of refugees. Almost 700,000 Kosovars have fled to Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (see figure 5) since hostilities commenced in March 1998. The number of displaced outside of Kosovo but in Serbia proper is unknown. Over three-fourths of the 700,000 refugees have arrived since late March. At the peak of the exodus, refugees attempting to enter Albania and Macedonia formed lines many miles in length from the border. While Serbian authorities have caused this mass exodus to take place, they have alternately allowed refugees to cross the border, and then prevented them from doing so. This has made the efforts by refugee and relief agencies to accommodate refugees even more difficult by creating confusion and uncertainty. Serbian authorities overseeing the expulsion seem to systematically expel Kosovar Albanians, distributing the movements among crossing points so as to manage the expulsions to achieve a political result.

According to the UNHCR, some 65,000 refugees left Kosovo during a one week period in mid-April and various sources indicate that tens of thousands more are moving toward the Albanian and Macedonian borders. The UN has more recently reported that thousands of additional refugees have arrived in Macedonia, and that the situation in the refugee camps there has reached a critical point. Macedonian camps are overcrowded and tensions are rising. The health and sanitation situation is quickly deteriorating, leading relief workers to fear the outbreak of epidemics in the camps with the onset of warmer weather.

As of May 5, an estimated 1.5 million Kosovar Albanians have been displaced from their homes:

Kosovo (IDPs): 600,000
Albania: 404,000
Montenegro: 62,000
Macedonia: 211,000
Bosnia: 38,000 (includes 20,000 Sandzak Muslims)
Other countries: 160,000 (includes 30,000 ethnic Serbs)

2) Looting and Burning

More than 600 settlements have been at least partially damaged since October, 1998 (see figure 6), including over 300 villages burned since April 4, according to overhead imagery. Most Serb homes and stores reportedly have remained intact, and according to refugee reports, Serb civilians in the town of Vucitrn painted a Cyrillic "S" on their doors so that Serbian forces would not attack their homes by mistake. The destruction appears to be much more extensive and thorough than occurred last summer. Many settlements were totally destroyed in an apparent attempt to ensure that the ethnic Albanian population could not return. Serbian forces have reportedly burned all houses previously rented to OSCE observers in Vucitrn, Stimlje, and Mitrovica.

Refugees report that mosques and religious sites have been attacked or destroyed in at least 21 villages and towns. Refugees also report that schools have been attacked or destroyed in at least 14 villages and towns.

Imagery confirms that the following villages have been burned or largely destroyed:

Bajcina Bajgora Banja Batlava
Bela Crkva Bradas Celine Crebnik
Crni Lug Dobri Do Donja Penduha Donja Lapistica
Donji Retimlje Donji Streoci Dumos Gajrak
Gedje Godisnjak Gornja Zakut Gornje Pakastica
Gornji Crnobreg Gornji Streoci Jablanica Jovic
Kacandol Klincina Letance Lipovac
Luzane Mamusa Madare Mala Hoca
Malisevo Mirusa Neprebiste Novo Selo Begova
Pantina Pasoma Radoste Randubrava Retimlje
Rogovo Skorosnik Slatina Smac
Sopnic Stanica Donje Ljupce Suvi Do Vlaski Drenovac
Vucitrn Vujitun Zrze  

3) Detention

There are consistent refugee reports that Serbian forces are separating military-aged men from their families, in what appears to be a systematic pattern. A disproportionate percentage of refugees allowed to flee Kosovo, especially into Albania, are women, the elderly, and children. At this writing, the number of missing men and their fate are unknown. Mass detention sites include:

4) Summary Execution

Refugees have provided accounts of summary executions in at least 70 towns and villages throughout Kosovo. Kosovar Albanian refugees from throughout the province continue to report mass executions. In addition, there are reports of mass graves in Drenica, Kaaniku, Rezalla, Malisevo, Pusto Selo, Izbica, and the Pagarusa valley. Serbian security forces reportedly locked an entire family into a house in a village in Drenica and burned them alive. Overhead imagery has provided evidence that corroborates at least two reports-the summary executions at Izbica and Pusto Selo (see figure 2 and figure 3). In addition to random executions, the Serbian authorities appear to be targeting Kosovar intellectuals, professionals, and leaders.

5) Rape

Ethnic Albanian women are reportedly being raped in increasing numbers; according to refugees, Serbian forces have raped women in an organized and systematic fashion in Djakovica and Pec. Rape victims were reportedly separated from their families and sent to an army camp near Djakovica where Serbian soldiers repeatedly raped them. In Pec, refugees alleged that Serbian forces rounded up young Albanian women and took them to the Hotel Karagac, where they were raped repeatedly. The commander of the local base reportedly uses a roster of soldiers' names to allow all of his troops an evening in the hotel. In addition to these specific accounts, refugees claim that during Serbian forces' raids on their villages, young women have been gang raped in homes and on the sides of roads. We believe that there may be many more incidents that have not been reported because of the cultural stigma attached to this offense in traditional Kosovar society.

6) Violations of Medical Neutrality

Refugees have reported that Serbian forces systematically attacked ethnic Albanian physicians, patients, and Kosovar medical facilities. Reports indicate that violations of medical neutrality by Serbian forces include killings, torture, detention, imprisonment, and forced disappearances of Kosovar physicians -- one NGO has documented the killings of seven ethnic Albanian doctors within the past year. In addition to targeting individuals, Serbian forces reportedly have looted and destroyed numerous clinics, private health centers, pharmacies, and other medical facilities run by ethnic Albanian medical personnel. According to reports, since late March, violations of medical neutrality have accelerated dramatically, and have been directed against the entire ethnic Albanian population throughout Kosovo, effectively depriving them of medical and health care altogether. In the past month, Serbian healthcare providers, police and military reportedly have expelled ethnic Albanian patients and healthcare providers from health facilities, and then used a number of these health facilities as protective cover for military activities. In late March the Serbian medical directors of the state hospitals of Pristina and Pec allegedly dismissed all ethnic Albanian physicians from their staffs and expelled all ethnic Albanian patients, including those critically ill.

Refugees have reported that government and private clinics, pharmacies, and other healthcare structures in the following cities and villages are among those that have been damaged or destroyed:

Cirez Decani Glogovac
Gnjilane Gornja Klina Grebno
Kacanik Kamena Glava Klina
Kosovska Mitrovica Lipljan Magura
Malisevo Nevoljane Orahovac
Obilic Pristina Shtimlje
Srbica Urosevac Vucitrn

7) Identity Cleansing

In addition to reports of Serbian VJ, MUP, and paramilitary forces looting Kosovar homes and businesses, refugees report that Serbian forces robbed them of their remaining personal belongings before they allowed them to leave Kosovo. Reports of Serbian forces confiscating documentation, including national identity papers, and told them that they would never be allowed to return to their villages. The destruction of voter registers and other aspects of Kosovo's civil registry along with the removal of license plates from departing vehicles have also been reported. The United States and others are in the process of fully documenting the scope of Belgrade's identity cleansing.

[end of section]
Next page
Table of Contents

Flag bar
Kosovo Page
Office of the Special Representative
Bureau of European Affairs Home Page
DOSFAN Home Page