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<nettime> [kcc-news] HRW: Massacre of 60+ Villagers Near Bela Crkva; 5 w
Mentor Cana on Sun, 18 Apr 1999 21:36:02 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> [kcc-news] HRW: Massacre of 60+ Villagers Near Bela Crkva; 5 witnesses


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 For Immediate Release: April 17, 1999
     
     KOSOVO HUMAN RIGHTS FLASH #27
       
        Massacre of Over Sixty Villagers Near Bela Crkva
        Five witnesses describe killings to Human Rights Watch
     
     Five witnesses, interviewed separately, have described in detail how 
     Serbian security forces executed more than sixty ethnic Albanian men 
     in the village of Bela Crkva (Bellacerka in Albanian) just hours after 
     NATO bombing began in Yugoslavia on March 24.  
     
     Human Rights Watch researchers in Kukes, Albania, interviewed the five 
     witnesses yesterday.  The refugees' detailed accounts were consistent 
     with one another and matched the testimony of a sixth witness given to 
     a journalist from the French newspaper Le Monde.
     
     According to the witnesses, the killings took place on the morning of 
     March 25, some twelve hours after NATO began bombing targets in the 
     Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  The witnesses described in consistent 
     detail how residents of the village of Bela Crkva were forced to flee 
     their homes at approximately 4 a.m., an hour after Serb forces started 
     burning the village.  The villagers fled into the fields toward 
     Rogovo, hiding themselves by the banks of the Bellaj (in Albanian), a 
     stream flowing from Bela Crkva to Rogovo.  
     
     In the early morning of March 25, Serb forces found the ethnic 
     Albanians hiding near a bridge where the railroad tracks crossed the 
     stream. The families of Clirim Zhuniqi and Xhemal Spahiu, who were 
     approximately fifty meters away from the main group of villagers, were 
     the first to be discovered.  Twelve members of the two families were 
     summarily executed with automatic weapon fire, witnesses said.  There 
     was one survivor:  a two-year-old boy whose mother had protected him 
     with her body.
     
     Nesim Popaj, an Albanian doctor from Bela Crkva, reportedly tried to 
     negotiate with the Serb commander, pleading with him to spare the 
     lives of the hundreds of villagers.  He explained that they were not 
     members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), witnesses told Human 
     Rights Watch.  The commander responded by saying: "You're terrorists, 
     and NATO will have to save you."
     
     During this discussion, the commander was stepping down on the neck 
     of Shendet Popaj, the doctor's seventeen-year-old nephew, who was 
     lying prone on the ground.  Abruptly ending the discussion, the 
     commander -- described by one witnesses as a medium-height man, around 
     thirty-five years old, in a green camouflage uniform with three stars 
     on his shoulders -- mowed down Nesim with an automatic weapon in front 
     of Nesim's wife and three children, after which he killed Shėndet. The 
     witness noted specifically that the commander, believed by the witness 
     to be a captain, had a distinguishing feature: a recognizably 
     scrunched up mouth.
     
     The Serb forces then separated men and boys as young as twelve from 
     the rest of the villagers.  The men were told to undress, in an 
     apparent attempt to humiliate them in front of their wives and 
     children.  The Serb forces, described by witnesses as "special police 
     forces," then proceeded to search the mens' clothes and strip them of 
     money, jewelry, and documents.  One witness reported that the men had 
     to hand over their wedding rings.  The women and children were then 
     told to walk along the railroad track towards Zrze (Xerxe in 
     Albanian), a village on the Dakovica-Prizren road about a mile 
     southwest of Bela Crkva.
     
     Robbed of their possessions, the men were told to dress again, and 
     then to go to the nearby stream.  At that point, Serb forces opened 
     fire with automatic weapons.  The female villagers who were walking 
     along the railroad tracks told Human Rights Watch that they heard a 
     burst of gunfire, lasting for several minutes without interruption.
     
     Human Rights Watch also spoke with one man, who did not wish to be 
     identified, who claimed that he was shot with the group of men near 
     the stream, and survived.  When interviewed in Kukes he had bandages 
     on his right shoulder, right arm and head from wounds he said he had 
     sustained during the shooting (to his right shoulder), as well as some 
     shrapnel wounds he had sustained later while trying to escape Kosovo 
     (to his head and arm).
     
     In a detailed testimony that was highly consistent with the other 
     witnesses, the man told Human Rights Watch that a bullet had struck 
     him in the right shoulder, forcing him back onto the bank of the 
     stream.  He was then covered by the bodies of several dead men, he 
     said, which hid him from the Serb forces who were examining the bodies 
     for signs of life.  He told Human Rights Watch:
     
        "I was lucky.  I was in front of the group.  I was shot in the 
     shoulder and flew into the stream, where I pretended to be dead.  
     About twenty dead bodies fell on top of me.  They then shot into the 
     pile of bodies to be sure they were dead...  They shot people one by 
     one, but I didn't get shot because they didn't see me."
     
     Roughly ten minutes later, still hiding under the pile of bodies, the 
     witness heard another round of automatic weapons fire nearby.  Some 
     thirty minutes after that, when the witness realized that the Serb 
     forces had moved on, he stood up and saw the dead bodies of seven 
     elderly people from his village, as well as two persons unknown to 
     him, lying in a field about a hundred meters away from the stream.  He 
     then proceeded to walk towards Zrze, where he told the women from Bela 
     Crkva who had arrived around 10:00 a.m. what had happened.
     
     The witness' account closely matched the testimony of another apparent 
     survivor given to French journalist Nathaniel Herzberg (see "The 
     Refugees of Kosovo Witness Executions by Serb Forces," by  Nathaniel 
     Herzberg, Le Monde, April 14, 1999).  This witness told Herzberg that 
     the men were forced to undress and then dress again before being 
     marched to the stream bed, where they were shot.  He said:
     
        "It was then that they opened fire. I was thrown into the water, 
     and others fell on top of me. And then nothing. Five minutes later, I 
     heard another burst of machine-gun firing, far away. After about 20 
     minutes, I moved. There were six survivors, but four were wounded. I 
     didn't have anything [I wasn't hurt.] I think there were between 
     thirty-five and forty dead, of which four were my cousins."
     
     According to other witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, who 
     also wished to remain anonymous, a man and several women near Zrze 
     went back to the stream by tractor to see if there were any other 
     survivors.  They told Human Rights Watch that they found five or six 
     men who were wounded near the stream and brought them to Zrze. Two of 
     the men later died of their wounds, and  it is unknown what happened 
     to the others.  Two days later, on the Muslim holiday of Bajram, a 
     group of villagers buried the bodies in a field near the river.  A 
     participant in the burial told Human Rights Watch that the villagers 
     had to work two nights in a row to bury all the bodies.
     
     The massacre in Bela Crkva reveals a pattern of mass killings along a 
     seven-mile stretch of villages on the Djakovica-Prizren road between 
     March 25 and March 27.  Human Rights Watch has confirmed that at least 
     forty ethnic Albanian males were killed in the town of Velika Krusa 
     (Krusha e Madhe in Albanian) on March 26 (see Human Rights Flash # 18, 
     April 4).  There are highly credible reports from individual witnesses 
     of mass killings in the nearby villages of Mala Krusa, Celina, and 
     Pirane.
     
     One possible explanation for the spate of mass killings in this 
     specific area may be revenge for the past activity of the KLA, which 
     at times controlled territory to the northeast of Velika Krusa in the 
     direction of Orahovac.  It is also possible that these killings can be 
     attributed to one particularly brutal group of soldiers or police, 
     although this is speculation.
     
     List of Those killed in Bela Crkva on March 25:
     
     1.   Hajrullah Begaj (village imam), 29
     2.   Murat Berisha, 62
     3.   Adem Berisha, 33
     4.   Hysni Fetoshi, 50
     5.   Halim Fetoshi, 70
     6.   Fatmir Fetoshi, 30
     7.   Ardian Fetoshi, 16
     8.   Fadil Gashi, 47
     9.   Musat Morina, 60
     10.  Zyraje Morina (wife of Musat), 55
     11.  Nesim Popaj (doctor), 36
     12.  Shendet Popaj, 17 (nephew of doctor)
     13.   Etihem Popaj, 40
     14.  Krashnik Popaj (son of Etihem), 48
     15.  Isuf Popaj, 65
     16.  Mehmet Popaj (son of Isuf), 46
     17.  Vehap Popaj, 60
     18.  Bedrush Popaj, 50
     19.  Avdullah Popaj (son of Bedrush), 16
     20.  Sedat Popaj, 50
     21.  Ifan Popaj, 40
     22.  Rrustem Popaj, 63
     23.  Mersel Popaj, 50
     24.  Sahit Popaj, 42
     25.  Behlul Popaj, 14
     26.  Nazmija Popaj, 45
     27.  Albani Popaj, 20
     28.  Agon Popaj, 14
     29.  Hysni Popaj, 38
     30.  Lendrit Popaj, 17
     31.-37.  Xhemajl Spahiu, 70 (from village of Apturush, he and 6 family 
     members were killed together with Clirim Zhuniqi in first group of 12)
     38.  Eshref Zhuniqi, age 60
     39.  Fatos Zhuniqi, 42
     40.  Labinot Zhunici, age 17
     41.  Mahamet Zhuniqi, 65
     42.  Reshit Zhuniqi (son of Muhamet), 25
     43.  Qamil Zhuniqi, 72
     44.  Ibrahim Zhuniqi, 70
     45.  Abedin Zhuniqi, 36
     46.  Bajram Zhuniqi, 50
     47.  Qemajl Zhuniqi, 57
     48.  Hysni Zhuniqi, 62
     49.  Kasim Zhuniqi, 30
     50.  Mehdi Zhuniqi, 60
     51.  Ahmed Zhuniqi
     52.  Agim Zhuniqi, 55
     53.  Destal Zhuniqi, 65
     54.  Bilal Zhuniqi, 75
     55.  Shemsi Zhuniqi (son of Bilal), 52
     56.  Muharem Zhuniqi (son of Shemsi), 28
     57.  Qlirim Zhuniqi (killed in first group of 12), 40 
     58.  Lumnije Zhuniqi, 39
     59.  Dhurata Zhuniqi, 10
     60.  Dardana Zhuniqi, 8
     61.  Dardan Zhuniqi, 5
     62.  Hysen Zhuniqi, 22
     

     For further information contact:
     Fred Abrahams (1-212) 216-1270
     Holly Cartner (1-212) 216-1277
     Jean-Paul Marthoz (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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