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<nettime> [kcc-news] LA Times: Kosovo Wells Emerging as Mass Graves (fwd)

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Kosovo Wells Emerging as Mass Graves
By VALERIE REITMAN, Times Staff Writer

YSK, Yugoslavia--Dozens of villagers gathered outside the
Memaj family's home in this remote hamlet in Kosovo,
watching as several masked men clustered around the well,
trying to dredge up what lay below.

Their worst fear: that the well might be the watery grave of as
many as a dozen men.

So many corpses have been dumped into wells in Kosovo that the
wells are emerging as a major health and reconstruction problem,
says the United Nations, which is working to establish a government
in the Serbian province. Private wells provide a good deal of the
water supply in rural Kosovo. In the Djakovica area in the southwest,
for example, the wells in 39 of 44 villages have been contaminated
with either human or animal bodies, according to the Office of the
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Serbian forces apparently stuffed so many bodies of ethnic
Albanians into wells during their campaign of terror last spring that
the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is
treating them as mass graves in their own right.

The Memajs had been waiting for local authorities to help them
tackle the job they'd started three weeks earlier, when they pulled
three dead cows and a dog out of the well and then the body of
39-year-old Arif Mazrekaj. Mirrors indicated that several
objects--possibly bodies--remained, and bullet shells nearby fueled

Serbian forces had yanked Mazrekaj, along with more than 70
other men, from a column of refugees attempting to flee Kosovo on
March 30. Perhaps some of the others, including the dead man's
son--whose jacket and ID card also had been fished out--would be
found at the bottom of the well too.

Similar scenes have been occurring all over rural Kosovo, as
returning ethnic Albanian refugees have come home to find their
wells contaminated with bodies. Many have been waiting weeks for
help in cleaning them out.

Just a few days before the well dredging at Qysk, the mutilated
corpses of two teenage boys--one with his ears cut off, the other with
his skull smashed--were pulled out of a well in the town of Dedaj.
When word of the discovery got out, more than 100 people from the
surrounding countryside, their relatives still missing since the war,
came to view the corpses, towing wagons behind tractors in case
they needed to bring home a body to bury.

War crimes investigator Ben Hogan was on hand in Qysk.
"It is all part of the [Serbs'] ethnic cleansing, the scorched-earth
policy of trying to render the place uninhabitable," Hogan said.
Human rights workers and war crimes investigators speculate that
Serbs dumped the animals atop the humans to hide their crimes. In
Dedaj, the locals found sponges floating in the wells, perhaps to
staunch the horrific odor of decaying bodies. Once they pulled the
sponges off, the smell of death polluted the entire valley, villagers say.
The corpses keep surfacing. Every day, the international aid group
Doctors Without Borders receives numerous requests for body bags.

In the town of Demjane, near the Albanian border, the bodies of
brothers Ymer Pnishi, 63, and Zyber Pnishi, 60, were found along
with a middle-aged retarded woman whose name local villagers did
not know. Near Kamenica, in the eastern part of the province, the
bodies of seven women, who are believed to have been raped, were
found in early July, according to the Council for the Defense of
Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization in Pec.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops, their hands full with
trying to keep law and order, have not been of much help, leaving the
aid groups to step in. Members of the Memaj family said that when
they contacted the Italian troops patrolling the region, one soldier told
them: "There are no humans there. It's a crocodile."

(One soldier did assist when the body was pulled out. A
spokesman for the Italian-led brigade says that "there are so many
things in so many places." As of the end of last month, the brigade
already had found 748 bodies, including those at 31 confirmed mass
grave sites.)

Doctors Without Borders logistics specialist Luc Castell says he
has never seen anything on the scale of the bodies he's seen in wells
in Kosovo, despite tours in hot spots such as Sudan, Liberia,
Cambodia, Haiti and Ivory Coast.

One recent morning, Castell brought the group's water pump to
Qysk, where he began helping the Memaj brothers and local villagers
clean out the Memaj well. They set up a pulley, and a man was
lowered into the well to secure an object below: Up came the
remains of a dog.

The villagers, who had gathered not far from the waist-high wall
around the well, retreated as a nauseous odor struck.
The women from surrounding towns who had come to see
whether their relatives were buried in the well were invited by the
Memaj women to sit on the porch while the work proceeded. One of
the two houses in the extended family's compound had been
destroyed by fire, so that only its walls remained. The other, where
they are living, was heavily damaged.

Olimbije Shabanaj, 38, and Ajshe Zukaj, 34, waited anxiously to
see if the bodies of their fathers would emerge from the well. Fatime
Mazrekaj, 65, was there too, trying to determine the fate of her
70-year-old husband. The men were among 66 still missing from the
refugee column that fled the nearby towns of Beleg, Decani and Isniq
on March 30.

The Memajs didn't have the heart to tell the wife of the one man
they had found in their well that they also had found his 16-year-old
son's identification.
"She has no other sons," the women said.
As the women talked, the odor became particularly fierce, and
they put handkerchiefs across their faces: Another dog had just been
fished out of the well. The smell became nearly insufferable each
time an animal was pulled out.
The women dreaded seeing their relatives emerge, but at the
same time they were desperate for closure.

"I would like to find him alive--I wait all night for him to knock on
my door," Zukaj said of her father. "But I also want to find his bones
and bury him properly if he's dead, because it's also hard not knowing
what happened to him. I've saved my last dime to buy him a casket."
By 4:30 p.m., the two Memaj brothers thought they had dredged
up everything from the well. Altogether, there were seven dogs and
what looked like a pig, in addition to the cows, the dog and the man's
body they had found three weeks earlier. But no other human
remains were discovered.

"You cannot pay for that relief," said Demush Memaj.
Castell, the Doctors Without Borders logistician, explained to
Memaj that it would be possible to chlorinate the well and render the
water drinkable. But like most Kosovars who have found bodies in
wells, Memaj never wants to use the well again. He said he wanted it
treated and covered as soon as possible. Castell poured about a
pound of chlorine into the well.

The Memajs will continue to go into town to get water for the
foreseeable future because new wells are expensive to dig: $1,000 or
more, depending on the depth.
The women who had come to watch were relieved. They faced
the prospect of other, similar dredgings, but that seemed a small price
to pay.
Said Shabanaj: "It's good not to find anybody in a well because
wherever [the missing bodies] are, it's better than being in a well."

Copyright Los Angeles Times

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