Revenge Attacks Fill Police Blotter in Postwar Kosovo


Last week's massacre of 14 Serbian farmers as they harvested wheat made headlines around the world and drew angry condemnations from leaders attempting to keep the peace in postwar Kosovo.

"The world did not intervene to make Kosovo safe for revenge and intolerance," proclaimed Bernard Kouchner, the chief United Nations representative here. But one need look no further than what serves as the province's daily police log to see that cases of apparent revenge are rampant. Consider just a few of the entries from the days preceding Friday's slaughter in Gracko:

* Slobodan Brankovich, a Serb, was shot three times in the upper body while selling fuel in the downtown market of Pristina.

* An unidentified man was found beaten to death at the bus depot a few blocks away. The bodies of two more men, one with a gunshot wound to the chest, were found floating in a lake a few miles outside town.

* The body of yet another man was fished from another lake. One end of a rope was cinched around his neck, the other around a heavy rock.

* A young woman was kidnapped from her village by three men, held captive and raped in what authorities suspect was a crime of intimidation.

Stanka Kujovic says she too was raped. Four times. The 61-year-old widow is one of two Serbs living in an apartment block less than a mile from U.N. headquarters in this capital of Kosovo, a southern province of Yugoslavia's main republic, Serbia. "They grabbed me by my hair. They put the pistol to my head, and they beat me," said Kujovic, her eyes still blackened from the July 18 assault. "Then they raped me."

Kujovic told authorities that her four attackers were ethnic Albanians who targeted her because she is a Serb. But she said she is blameless in the atrocities carried out by the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who has been indicted on war crimes charges. She also said that her husband died of heart disease five years ago and that she doesn't have a son, hence no connection to Milosevic's brutal "ethnic cleansing" against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

"I didn't do anything wrong," she said.

Following the assault, Kujovic was paid a high-level visit in her drab one-bedroom apartment by the U.N.'s Kouchner and by Hashim Thaci, leader of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army.

Speaking through an interpreter, Kujovic said both men promised her that she would be safe from further violence. But in the days since the attack, she said, people have continued to pound on her door and have threatened to slit her throat if she doesn't abandon the apartment where she has lived since 1966. She said she has tried to call authorities to report the harassment but that it has been impossible to get through on the city's unreliable phone lines.

When a reporter agreed to alert North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops to her predicament, a British soldier on patrol nearby said his unit was busy handling another problem: Someone had poured gasoline in the doorway of a Serbian apartment and struck a match, setting the door ablaze with the family still inside. "They were trying to burn them out," the soldier said. "We see this all the time." The soldier promised to radio for help for Kujovic, which he said eventually did arrive at her apartment.

The violence appears to cut both ways, but officials say that they cannot always determine if a crime is ethnically motivated. In another recent item in the police log, an ethnic Albanian girl was shot three times in the breast as she walked past the bus station. And in the section of Kosovo patrolled by American peacekeepers, Serbs are accused of setting up an illegal roadblock near one of their villages and beating an ethnic Albanian man into unconsciousness in front of his family.

Since NATO began keeping tabs shortly after its occupation of Kosovo started June 12, through Monday, there have been 840 confirmed incidents of looting, 573 arson attacks and 198 homicides.

"Arson, murder, abduction, assaults--the whole gamut of what people can do to people is happening on a daily basis throughout the province of Kosovo," said Tony Williams, a Canadian police official who is helping to assemble the international police force that will eventually take over the streets from troops of the NATO-led Kosovo Force, or KFOR.

For now, the man in charge of the KFOR "police force" is British Col. Ian Waters. While civilian police in Kosovo privately say that the motivation for ethnic Albanians killing Serbs and vice-versa is obvious, given the postwar climate, military officials are more cautious in their assessment. "We feel that a number of these murders have a sectarian base to them," Waters said, refusing further comment.

Even after the massacre in Gracko, a town just south of Pristina, British Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson, commander of the NATO-led force in Kosovo, ventured only so far down the path of blame during a press briefing:

"We can all speculate, and I'm sure you all are, as are we, who did this terrible thing and for what reason," Jackson said. "There are a number of possibilities, something from local revenge to something rather more sinister, in terms of an organized way."

An elderly ethnic Albanian man in the town of Lipljan, about a mile from the killing field of Gracko, dismissed the slayings as the product of infighting among rogue Serbian paramilitary troops.

"If the Albanians had done it, there would have been a lot more killed," he said, refusing to give his name.

Waters said that 145 of the homicide victims have been identified by ethnicity and that about half are Serb and half ethnic Albanian. Unlike the looting and arson, which peaked in the first two weeks after NATO troops rolled into Kosovo, the number of killings has hovered at slightly more than 30 a week in the province, which is about the size of Los Angeles County. In fact, he said, the homicide rate has actually fallen as hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians have streamed back into Kosovo from refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania. That observation, however, seems contradicted in one regard: the disproportionate number of Serbs being slain at the same time the province's Serbian population was rapidly shrinking.

Justice for the dead doesn't promise to be swift.

To date, only seven people are being detained in makeshift military jails in connection with the 198 homicides recorded through Monday.

Waters said he is satisfied with the seven detentions, considering the challenge of policing a region riven by postwar ethnic hatred--and having only a handful of criminal investigators and a bunch of soldiers to do it.

Meanwhile, Stanka Kujovic is convinced she will become an unsolved murder if she ventures outside her dingy apartment.

"Help me," she wails repeatedly, tears streaming from her eyes during a recent interview. "I have nowhere to go."

Times staff writer Valerie Reitman in Pristina contributed to this report.

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