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HLC - PRESS - In the name of the victims - Kosovo 1999- by Natasa Kandic

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  • office@greekhelsinki.gr
    IN THE NAME OF THE VICTIMS Women and Children Murdered in Podujevo on 28 March 1999 Police and troops from Serbia began arriving in Podujevo on 20 March,
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 22 12:10 PM
      IN THE NAME OF THE VICTIMS
      Women and Children Murdered in Podujevo on 28 March 1999

      Police and troops from Serbia began arriving in Podujevo on 20 March,
      shooting off their guns, shattering store windows and pillaging. When the
      bombing started on 24 March 1999, the ethnic Albanian population stayed
      indoors, communicating with each other only through their adjacent yards.
      Those who lived on the outskirts moved in with relatives and friends in the
      town center, believing they would be safer there. Almost every Albanian
      home in the center was giving shelter to people from the suburbs and
      surrounding villages.
      Podujevo was ethnically cleansed on 28 March. Over 10,000 Albanians were
      driven out of their homes, formed into columns, marched through the center
      and told to continue along the only route left free by the Serbian forces.
      Entering Albanian houses in the center, Serbian police led by local
      policemen and mobilized civilians killed at least 19 Albanian civilians at
      three different locations. Their bodies lay where they were killed for two
      days before the local Civil Defense was able to arrange transfer to the
      Pristina (Prishtina) morgue. None of the Albanians knows when the bodies
      were returned and buried in a row of shallow graves in the Podujevo
      cemetery. Only three of the graves were marked. Investigators of The
      Hague Tribunal were present when the bodies were exhumed for reburial in
      June 1999. A second exhumation took place in 2000 when the remains of 11
      persons were taken to the Forensic Medicine Institute in Orahovac to be
      autopsied. To avoid yet more digging up of graves, Enver Duriqi, who lost
      four children, his wife and his parents, buried their bodies on a hill
      above his house on the outskirts of Podujevo.
      I heard about the deaths of the Podujevo women and children in April 1999
      from an elderly Albanian taxi driver in Belgrade, who was regularly
      visiting two children at the Belgrade Pediatric Hospital: nine-year-old
      Lirrie Bogujevci, a survivor of the Podujevo killings, and a boy from Pec
      who was seriously injured in a shell explosion.
      I passed through Podujevo some time later, on 19 April, hoping to meet
      someone who could direct me to Lirrie's father. But the streets were
      teeming with uniformed men who looked like bandits and robbers, and I was
      afraid to stop any of them to ask questions. Two days later, I saw a
      column of several thousand Albanians on the road from Pristina to Podujevo.
      An elderly man told me the police had given them permission to return to
      Podujevo. I saw, however, that the column did not go into Podujevo. Only
      people registered as residents of the town were allowed to return; the rest
      had to find shelter in the woods where they remained until the deployment
      of the international forces in Kosovo.
      I found Selatin Bogujevci, Lirrie's father, two years later. He told me
      his children and his brother`s, all five of them, had survived. We spoke
      many times and after each conversation he talked with his children about 28
      March. He would call me on the phone or write, saying the children were
      still taking it very hard, that his youngest, Genc, always fell silent when
      they talked about what had happened or when his mother's name was
      mentioned. The last time we spoke, on 10 November this year, he told me
      that Genc, now nine, had talked about the shooting for the first time and
      said he remembered the man who had fired his gun at them.
      In Podujevo, I spoke with people in Ivana Kosancica and Rahmana Morine
      Streets. On 30 and 31 October 2002, I went through all the houses and
      yards from which people had been thrown out on 28 March. In Halim Gashi's
      yard I saw the small old house against whose walls people had been shot.
      Although the walls had been whitewashed, bullet holes were still
      discernible on them and on the concrete path.
      Rexhep Kastrati
      Rexhep Kastrati told me how the police entered Albanian homes in Podujevo.
      The house he shares with the Gjata family is situated about 100 meters from
      the town hall and the police station, and was the first the police came to.
      It has three entrances. Kastrati was on the second floor with his wife,
      daughters, older sisters and their children. Besides them, there were also
      refugees they had taken in. His sons had left for Pristina the day before.
      This is how Kastrati described what happened when the police came:
      We heard the sound of the front door being broken down at about 8 o'clock.
      My sister Nurije went first, with me right behind her. A young man who
      seemed to be in charge of the group came in first. He was in green
      camouflage fatigues. The others wore different kinds of uniform; some like
      the first one, others were in blue police uniforms and still others in
      black. About 20 of them had black bands or scarves around their heads. A
      few were wearing glasses. The young man could have been 23 or 24. He was
      tall and strongly built and his head was shaved. He had strange greenish
      eyes and a nice face, like Arkan's. He had a badge on his shoulder but I
      couldn't make it out. As soon as he was inside, he grabbed me by the shirt
      with one hand and trained his automatic at me with the other. He asked how
      many people were in the house and I said a lot. My sister Nurije took out
      a roll of banknotes and held it out to him. She didn't say anything
      because she doesn't speak Serbian. He asked why the woman was giving him
      money and I replied it was because he would tell us in which direction we
      were to go. She also gave him gold coins, necklaces and earrings.
      I remember that young man; he held me and gave me a hard time for at least
      half an hour. He kept me close to himself and I could smell him. It was a
      funny smell. From time to time, he would take a small bottle from the top
      pocket of his uniform and smell it. The liquid it held was colorless. He
      became more aggressive each time he uncorked the bottle and sniffed it. He
      asked me more than once how come I spoke such good Serbian, and I replied
      it was because of my work. He asked why we had stayed and not run away.
      He kept swearing all the time. He pushed me toward the stairs, smashed in
      the door with his foot and asked me what was in there. I said it was the
      basement. He tried to push me down the stairs. I struggled, my daughter
      cried and begged him to spare her father, and Nurije kept pulling my arm,
      trying to stop him from taking me away. Then they threw us out into the
      street.
      There were police and men in camouflage and black uniforms in the street.
      My daughter saw Toma Petrovic, a Podujevo policeman. She saw him again a
      month later in Prishtina, went up to him and said he was in our house when
      we were driven out. He asked on what date that was, calculated and
      admitted to her that he was in the uniformed group that 28 March. All he
      said was that I had been very lucky, that God himself had saved me.
      We were all in our bare feet because we hadn't had time to put anything on.
      My other sister is paralyzed and her daughters dragged her over the steps
      into the street. She wasn't even dressed. As we went through the yard,
      the young man noticed several cars that belonged to the refugees and said,
      "Just look at that - it's like a car show." Apart from one that wouldn't
      go, we didn't find any of the cars when we came back in June.
      When we were all out in the street, they lined us up. The young man pulled
      me out of the line and began giving me a hard time again. He pointed his
      gun at me. Then a dog started barking and he asked me why. I didn't know
      what to say. As he ill-treated me, another one came up and said to him:
      "Leave the man alone; stop badgering him." He let me go then, turned his
      gun around and hit me right in the mouth with the butt, splitting my upper
      and low lips. My legs buckled under me but Nurije held me up. The young
      man fired a burst into the air. I remember him very well and I'm sure he's
      the one on trial in Prokuplje. I saw his picture. He held me facing him
      so I got a good look at his face. I also remember his smell. I would also
      recognize the policeman who told him to leave me alone.
      We went down the street in a column. Old Ejup and his son Florim were the
      last to leave their house. They told us in which direction we were to go.
      At the gate to the Bogujevci house, I saw them take Selman Gashi out of the
      column.
      Florim Gjata
      Florim Gjata (33) and his family were on the third floor of his uncle
      Isak's house when the police came. His father Ejup (70), was wounded on 24
      March and, when he heard the police, he changed his shirt and put on a
      jacket to cover up the bloodstains. Ejup and his nephew Naser were shot by
      soldiers on an intersection in the center of Podujevo. Naser was killed
      instantly and Ejup was hit in the right side of the back and left upper
      leg. He managed to get away and hide in the house of Rexhep Sekiraca.
      Naser's body lay in the street for 12 hours until the police allowed
      Sekiraca to take it to the Gjata family. They buried Naser in the yard.
      When I spoke with Florim Gjata in Podujevo, I asked him about the cigarette
      lighter mentioned by the defendant Cvjetan at his trial in Prokuplje.
      Florim said the lighter was his uncle Isak's. He also said there were no
      Kosovo Liberation Army uniforms or pistols in the house, as claimed by
      Cvjetan, and told me about the events of 28 March in great detail.
      When the police ordered them out of Isak's house, everyone did as they were
      told. Florim and his wounded father, mother and one-year-old son were the
      last. They were going down the stairs when two uniformed men came toward
      them:
      One of them asked my father, "What is it; are you sick or wounded?" My
      father said he was sick. I was behind him, with my son in my arms. When
      they saw me, one of them said, "It's you we're looking for. Put down the
      child." I said I couldn't because the baby wasn't even a year old. He
      said, "Put your son down or I'll kill you both." He was standing on the
      stairs below me and the other one was next to me. The other one didn't say
      anything, just kept his gun pointed at me. He was 26 or 27. Both were in
      camouflage fatigues and had badges on their shoulders. I think I made out
      the word "Scorpion" on the badges, but I can't be sure.
      The one who threatened me was tall, heavily built and his head so closely
      shaved that he seemed to be bald. He had a big face. I had to put my son
      down and he started screaming. Then the one with the gun beside me said,
      "Leave the man be. Can't you see the child is crying? I have a child like
      him." I bent down to pick up my son but the bald one yelled that I was to
      leave him where he was. The other one told me to take the child and go. I
      picked up the baby and went down the stairs. I hadn't taken two steps when
      I saw the policeman Tomo Petrovic in front of me. "Tomo, for heaven's
      sake. You know I have a small child and these two want to kill me," I
      said. He just shrugged his shoulders. I went down and was near the front
      door when I heard a burst of shots. I thought they had killed everyone who
      had left the house before me. A column had already been formed in the
      street. We joined it and went in the direction of the Lap river.
      Selatin Bogujevci
      From the Gjata yard, it is easy to get to the Bogujevci family compound in
      Ivana Kosancica Street (now Skenderbegova). The Bogujevci brothers, Safet
      and Selatin, and their surviving children no longer live there; the house
      is empty and their sister comes to check on it now and then. The compound
      also contains the houses of their late father, Uka, and uncles Maliq and
      Qazim. Two or three days before the start of the bombing, Selatin saw an
      acquaintance, Enver Duriqi, with his family on a tractor with trailer and
      at a loss as where to go. Selatin told them they could stay in his uncle
      Qazim's empty house.
      Selatin, Safet, and Enver Duriqi fled before the police arrived in the
      compound, after hearing gunfire and some kind of uproar in the town. An
      armored personnel carrier was standing in front of their house. Having
      heard that the police and paramilitaries were killing Albanian men, the
      women and children begged them to get away while they still could.
      Duriqi's father, the elderly Hamdi, stayed with the women and children.
      Running through the yards, the three men reached a field some 100 meters
      from the house, where there were many people who were either fleeing the
      police and military or had been driven by them from their homes.
      More and more people kept arriving all day, some on foot with a few
      belongings in bags, others on tractors. No one had any news about the
      Bogujevci and Duriqi families. When night fell, Selatin joined a group
      that made its way to Ballovac village, while Safet and Enver stayed, hoping
      to be joined by the women and children. Safet went to Ballovac the next
      day, and Enver two days later, without having heard anything about their
      families. Together with others, they moved from village to village, driven
      by the Serbian forces at their heels who shelled every village in which
      civilians found shelter. From Ballovac, they went to Hertice, Sajkovac,
      Batllava and then to Koliq where, on 14 April, they heard that the children
      were in hospital.
      A man who had been at the hospital to pick up his son, who had been
      operated on before the bombing started, brought a message that Saranda,
      Jehona, Fatos and Genc were in the Pristina hospital, and that Lirrie had
      been taken to Belgrade. Saranda had given him a scrap of paper with their
      names on it, "just in case you meet our fathers somewhere." The next day,
      Safet and Enver went to the hospital and spoke with Saranda and Jehona, but
      were afraid to ask about the boys, who were in the orthopedic ward.
      Shelling forced the civilians to leave Koliq on 18 April. Selatin says
      that many people were killed. They went to Pristina, where the police told
      them that everyone from Podujevo was to go back home. At the gasoline
      station just outside Podujevo, the police directed them to Sajkovac. Since
      all the houses in the village had been burned, the people went on to
      Sibovac. Only one Albanian house in that village had not been burned and
      looted, thanks to a Serb neighbor. They spent the night there and returned
      to Shajkovac the next day. A few days later, the police told them they
      could return to the "liberated" parts of Podujevo. Some people did, but
      the majority stayed in the woods. Those who returned were accompanied by
      Inspector Nebojsa Maljevic of the Podujevo police station who rode in a
      police car, and Faik Jashari, a member of the Serbian delegation at the
      Rambouillet talks, in a black Mercedes. Maljevic took the Bogujevci
      brothers to their compound, went into the yard, and came back saying the
      houses were occupied.
      It was only after the arrival of the international forces in Podujevo that
      Selatin and Safet Bogujevci and Enver Duriqi entered the compound. In
      Halim Gashi's yard, they saw evidence of the crime. Seljatin recounted:
      There were blood stains on the whole path, all the way to the gate. One
      wall of the old house and the yard wall were pockmarked with bullet holes.
      There were also traces of a child's brain on the wall of the house. I
      found a child's boot near the tap in the yard; marbles and women's scarves
      were scattered all around. Enver's wife's watch had stopped at two minutes
      to eleven... I found my wife Shefkate's identity card on the storage
      heater in our house. I didn't find the bags we had packed and kept in the
      yard near my uncle's house all during the war. We hadn't had time to take
      them with us and somebody probably took them before the war ended. I found
      photographs taken with my camera in Dumnice village, thrown around and
      damaged. We found 97 shell casings on a few square meters of ground in the
      yard.
      A Serb at the morgue in Pristina showed me a book in which 19 unidentified
      bodies were registered. According to the book, the bodies had been brought
      there by Milan Anastasijevic of the Civil Defense. I don't know when they
      were buried. Tefik Gashi, the pathologist who examined the bodies, told me
      the belongings found on them were taken by forensics inspector Zivojin
      "Zika" Cvetkovic. We found 19 unmarked graves at the cemetery, and three
      with the names Amdi Duriqi, Isma Duriqi, and Fitnete Shabani.
      Killed in Halim Gashi's Yard
      Seven children and seven women were shot to death in Halim Gashi's yard:
      Shpetim (born in 1989) and Spend (1986), the sons of Safet Bogujevci; his
      wife Sala (1960); Nora (1984), the daughter of Selatin Bogujevci; his wife
      Shefkate (1956); Shehide Bogujevci (1932); Nefise Bogujevci Llugaliu
      (1945), the sister of Selatin and Safet; her daughter-in-law Fezdrije
      Llugaliu (1978); Dafina (1990), Arber (1992), Mimoza (1995), and Albin
      (1997), the children of Enver Duriqi; Fitnete nee Shabani (1963), wife of
      Enver; and Isma (1930), Enver's mother. Saranda (1985), Safet's daughter;
      and Selatin's children Fatos (1986), Jehona (1990), Lirrie (1990), and Genc
      (1993) were seriously wounded.
      The Children Remember
      The children told their fathers and the Tribunal's investigators what
      happened after Selatin, Safet, and Enver left the compound. Selatin would
      call me on the phone or write to tell me what they had said:
      After the three of us left, my family and Safet's moved over to my uncle's
      house, where the Duriqis were. When the police started going into houses,
      the mothers decided it would be safer out in the street. Enver's father
      [1928] Hamdi was the only man with them. They were just leaving the house
      when a group of uniformed men came into the yard and stopped them. The
      children say there were a lot of them, in camouflage and police uniforms.
      They remember a tall policeman with longish hair and an earring, an older
      and shorter one with a beard, and a very young policeman with a military
      cap with visor that was flat on the top. They say the youngest one
      searched them the most. He checked their bags and didn't let them take
      them when they were made to go through Selatin's yard to Naim Gashi's. The
      youngest one and the one with the beard went with them.
      There were a lot of police in Naim's yard; they broke down the fence. A
      tall one with a short beard ordered the women to take off their
      headscarves. They searched Shpetim and Arber, found their marbles and
      threw them away. A tall one with short curly hair pulled out Shefkate, put
      his hands in her pockets, and threw the dinars he found all around. Then
      he took her to the old house at the bottom of Naim's yard and dragged her
      inside. The children saw this just before they were made to go into
      Halim's yard, which was also full of police, and then out into Rahmana
      Morine Street. There were all kinds of uniforms in the street: military,
      police, men in civilian pants and military camouflage tops, or police pants
      and military tops. They had poles and ax handles with which they smashed
      shop windows, and swore all the time. They [Albanian civilians] were made
      to go in the direction of the police station, in a column with old Hamdi at
      its head.
      They were ordered to halt outside the Drina Cafe. A man in police pants
      and military top started yelling at old Hamdi, knocked off his white cap
      and slapped him. Then he ordered another one to take Hamdi into the cafe
      and pointed to Selman Gashi, who was in the column, standing near a store.
      The other one led both of them into the cafe and, a few moments later, the
      children heard two shots. The women and children were told to go back to
      where they had come from.
      They returned to Halim's yard where they found Shefkate whom they had left
      in Naim's yard, and the same police who had driven them out before. They
      saw the policeman who had dragged Shefkate into Naim's old house. A
      policeman started yelling at Fezrije, took out his knife and hit her on the
      head with the hilt. The same policeman pulled Shefkate by the her hair,
      and they saw her crying and saying something to him. She was the only one
      who spoke Serbian. As the children watched, the policeman pushed Shefkate
      and shot her in the back. She fell down and he fired another shot at her.
      The children started crying. They were facing the policeman when he threw
      away his empty rifle, took a loaded one and fired at them. The women and
      children fell down beside the wall of the house. Saranda heard the sound
      of a new clip being put in a gun and then felt more bullets hitting her.
      At one pointed, she raised her head and saw her younger brother Shpetim
      without his head, and Enver's son Arber with his face blown away. Saranda,
      Jehon, Lirrie, Fatos and Genc were all hit in several places on the body
      and in the left hand. They remember someone giving them first aid and
      being driven to the Prishtina hospital in an ambulance. Lirrie was taken
      from there to Belgrade where she was in hospital until 10 October 1999.
      More Deaths in Ivana Kosancica Street
      Selim and Idriz Tahiri were killed and Nazim Veseli wounded the same day in
      Ivana Kosancic Street. Nazim and Isak Jusufi, who survived unscathed,
      recounted to me what happened. There were some 50 people in the house of
      Nazim's uncle when the police came at about 10 o'clock. The police were in
      camouflage uniforms and Nazim saw they had local Serbs as guides. He
      recognized Dragan Biocanin, who worked in the local administration on
      territorial defense and military affairs. Biocanin's brother Boban was
      also there.
      Dragan took Selim Tahiri to lead them to other houses. A lot of policemen
      stayed with us; the yard was full of them. One said the men should be
      taken to the police station. Selim had been brought back in the meantime.
      They took me, Selim, Idriz, and Isak and led us out into the street, then
      back again and into the entrance hall of the house. Then Boban Biocanin
      came in and said, "What are you doing here, f... you!" He started firing
      at us right away. We were lined up. He shot me first, then Selim, Idriz
      and Isak. He emptied his gun firing at us. I was hit me twice, in the
      stomach and the right arm, below the elbow. We fell down and they didn't
      check to see if anyone was still alive. They left. Our people bundled me
      and Isak over the wall and carried us to the Lap river where there were a
      lot of people.
      Aftermath
      Sasa Cvjetan and Dejan Demirovic, former members of the Serbian police
      force and reservists in the Scorpion unit, have been charged with war
      crimes against the civilian population under Art. 142 (1) of the Yugoslav
      Criminal Code. They are currently on trial before the District Court in
      Prokuplje, Demirovic in absentia since he is still at large. The specific
      charges are the murders of four identified and several unidentified
      persons, and the wounding of several unidentified persons on 28 March 1999
      in Podujevo, Kosovo.
      At trial, the defendant retracted the statement he gave to the
      investigating judge in May 1999 in which he confessed to the killings. Like
      Cvjetan, the witnesses, also members of the Scorpion unit, appear to be
      frighteningly normal. They all reiterated under oath that "nobody killed
      anyone, nobody fired at women and children." They do not deny seeing the
      bodies of dead civilians on 28 March 1999 in an Albanian yard in Podujevo
      but, like Cvjetan, do not know who killed them or when.
      The trial chamber denied the prosecutor's motion that I be called as a
      witness to tell the court what I had heard from eyewitnesses and survivors.
      It thus openly demonstrated its bias in favor of the witnesses, who in
      giving testimony do their very best to shield the defendants. These
      witnesses set the tone of the trial.
      The court has shown no interest in obtaining evidence of the crimes, and
      seems determined to treat grave breaches of international law as sporadic
      acts committed by individuals under the pressure of the NATO bombing.
      Can the Prokuplje District Court see to it that justice is done? Can it
      bring any kind of relief to the victims? My answer is that the trial of
      Sasa Cvjetan gravely undermines justice and the human dignity of the
      victims. Such trials are not an appropriate place for victims to appear
      and be heard.
      Belgrade, 18 November 2002 Natasa Kandic
      HLC Executive Director
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