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<nettime> [kcc-news] HRW: Kosovo Flash #24: KOSOVO REFUGEES "NIGHTS OF F
Mentor Cana on Sat, 10 Apr 1999 09:11:43 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> [kcc-news] HRW: Kosovo Flash #24: KOSOVO REFUGEES "NIGHTS OF FEAR"


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     Human Rights Watch

     KOSOVO HUMAN RIGHTS FLASH #24
     April 8, 1999

     KOSOVO REFUGEES DESCRIBE "NIGHTS OF FEAR" IN BELANICE VILLAGE

     Refugees fleeing into northern Albania described an atmosphere of
     utter terror in the Kosovo village of Belanice, which was used by
     Yugoslav forces as a gathering point for ethnic Albanians living in
     the Malishevo district.  Dozens of witnesses interviewed by Human
     Rights Watch reported that they were robbed, threatened with death,
     suffered physical deprivation, and that refugees were occasionally
     murdered. On April 1, their ordeal in Belanice came to an abrupt end,
     when they were forcibly expelled from the village toward the Albanian
     border.

     According to refugees, Serbian police and Yugoslav Army soldiers
     forced some 50,000 villagers in the Malishevo and Suva Reka region of
     south-west Kosovo to gather in Belanice village beginning on or about
     March 26. The Yugoslav authorities forced the dispersed rural
     inhabitants into Belanice by shelling their homes or sending raiding
     parties into their villages. Villagers were instructed by the
     authorities to flee towards Belanice, one of the few villages in the
     area that had not been shelled.

     After spending several days and nights in the central square of
     Belanice village, the authorities drove the bulk of the refugees
     southwards towards the Albanian border, telling them that they were no
     longer welcome in Kosovo. After traveling in a slow-moving refugee
     column for up to three days, many of the Belanice survivors reached
     Kukes, a northern Albanian border down, on or about April 4, where
     they were interviewed by a representative from Human Rights Watch.

     Refugees -- the bulk of whom were women, children and older men --
     said they were forced to gather in the Belanice central square, where
     they were surrounded by Yugoslav security forces who repeatedly and
     persistently ordered them to hand over their money.   Several
     witnesses recalled that Qemal Bytyci, a bus driver from the village of
     Semetisht, was repeatedly ordered by Yugoslav soldiers to search his
     passengers for money, which he then turned over the to the surrounding
     troops. The bus was parked in Belanice's central square for several
     days along with hundreds of tractors and cars brought by the refugees.
     "After they had forced him to search the passengers on three separate
     occasions," recalled eighteen-year-old Shukrie Bytyci, "he could no
     longer find any money in the bus. So they took him away and beat him
     so badly that you could see the marks all over." Despairing of saving
     his vehicle, the bus driver abandoned the bus to the police, who then
     "drove all around the village, singing and shouting that they had
     captured the bus," the witness recalled.

     Other witnesses said that soldiers repeatedly and persistently
     threatened them with death if they refused to hand over their money.
     "The nights were full of terror," one elderly woman recalled, "with
     the Serbs roaming around the square shooting in the air and pulling
     out their knives to threaten you with death if you didn't pay. We gave
     them everything, even the earrings in our ears and the rings off our
     fingers." In many cases, refugees were beaten and cut with knives if
     they refused to comply with demands for money.

     On occasion, the Serb forces also killed refugees in Belanice. On
     April 1, for example, all refugees gathered in the town were ordered
     to leave for Albania.  Batisha Hoxha, seventy-two years old, told
     Human Rights Watch that her husband, seventy-five-year old Izet Hoxha,
     was shot dead on the afternoon of April 1 after failing to join the
     mass flight. "He tried at first to leave when they ordered us to clear
     out," she recalled, "but he then said he was too old and tired to
     leave." After returning home, the elderly couple was attacked by four
     security force personnel who broke in through the front door. "My
     husband couldn't see who they were at first," Mrs. Hoxha recalled,
     "and offered them cigarettes. One of the soldiers knocked the pack
     from his hand, and then shot him twice. The first bullet hit him in
     the arm; the second hit him in the chest and killed him." Batisha
     Hoxha was then ordered to join the other refugees in the central
     square, who were making preparations to leave for Albania.

     Dozens of witnesses who arrived in the northern Albanian town of Kukes
     after traveling from Malishevo district to Albania through Rahovec,
     Suva Reka, and Prizren said that most of the villages and towns in
     south-western Kosovo had been burned down and are empty of ethnic
     Albanian inhabitants. "Everywhere you go, you only see burnt homes and
     Serbian police or army," one refugee said. "All of Kosovo is empty of
     its people."

     For further information contact:
     Fred Abrahams: 1-917-293-3090
     Holly Cartner (New York): 1-212-216-1277
     Jean-Paul Marthoz (Brussels): 322-736-7838

     ***For further information about violations of human rights and
     humanitarian law in Kosovo, see the Human Rights Watch website at
     www.hrw.org on the "Crisis in Kosovo" page.   To subscribe to Kosovo
     Human Rights Flashes, send an E-mail to Donalds {AT} hrw.org.***


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