Airstrikes May Be Triggering New Massacres
Instead of bombing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic back to the bargaining table, NATO’s airstrikes have provoked new massacres and terrorist attacks in Kosovo, according to ethnic Albanian sources.
Serbs have executed as many as 50 ethnic Albanians in three incidents in this separatist Serbian 9province since the North Atlantic Treaty Organization launched its air attacks against Yugoslavia on Wednesday night, according to the news agency of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian guerrillas.
The reports of Serbian atrocities raise more doubts on whether NATO air power is enough to stop a civil war that has inflicted point-blank executions as well as long-range artillery on a largely unarmed people.
Pristina went black at 7:15 p.m. Friday as the military prepared for the third wave of airstrikes since Wednesday, when NATO launched the heaviest air attacks in Europe since World War II.
Less than half an hour later, bursts of machine-gun fire rattled from somewhere near the center of the city, followed by sharp grenade blasts as armed gangs in civilian cars raced around Pristina.
Later in the evening, Pristina was eerily quiet until the stroke of midnight, when a series of four large explosions rocked the city center. They were followed a few minutes later by more bursts of machine-gun fire. It was unclear if the explosions were NATO-related.
Many Serbs admit privately that they are horrified by the breakdown of law and order in Pristina, the provincial capital, but they accuse NATO of stirring up a hornet’s nest with the first attacks on a sovereign country in the alliance’s 50-year history.
In a sign of the increasing chaos, a row of shops and cafes owned mainly by ethnic Albanians exploded Thursday in a massive blast that appeared to be the work of terrorist bombers.
The explosion was so powerful that the roofs collapsed, devastating an area of about half a city block in central Pristina and blowing out windows in a five-story apartment building nearby.
The blackened ruins of the once-popular night district were still smoldering Friday afternoon.
A few dazed owners of shops across the street searched through the rubble to salvage what they could, even the few bricks that were still intact.
A block away, smoke was rising from another row of cafes and restaurants once frequented by ethnic Albanians in Pristina, which had largely escaped the violence of Kosovo’s yearlong war.
The side street is not near any known military installations, and there was no bomb crater or other evidence to suggest that NATO had missed its intended target and accidentally hit the stores.
Instead, the destruction had all the hallmarks of retaliation by Serbian paramilitary groups that have been terrorizing several Pristina neighborhoods, setting fires and abducting prominent ethnic Albanians, residents say.
A leading ethnic Albanian lawyer, who had long risked his life to expose massacres and other human rights abuses in Kosovo, may have become the latest victim of the alleged revenge attacks.
On Friday, police found the body of a man whom they identified as Bajram Kellmendi, a member of Kosovo’s Council for Human Rights, according to local journalists in Pristina.
He had been abducted along with his two sons from his house Thursday, and his body was found dumped along the road to Kosovo Polje, outside Pristina. The reports could not be independently confirmed.
Well-known ethnic Albanian human rights activists, politicians, journalists and other likely targets for retaliation have gone into hiding as Serbian police and paramilitary groups, rather than challenge NATO’s overwhelmingly superior air power, are escalating a dirty war against ethnic Albanians.
Serbia’s phone system has steadily deteriorated since the NATO attacks began, and most people are too frightened to go out into Pristina’s streets anymore, making it all the more difficult to gather information here.
However, several commanders in the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army have portable satellite phones, and the KLA runs its own news agency, Kosovo Press, which alleged three massacres in its reports Friday.
One claimed that 20 ethnic Albanian men were killed after security forces seized the village of Goden, next to the Albanian border, about 25 miles northwest of the southern Kosovo city of Prizren.
Refugees who crossed into Albania substantiated the report, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in Geneva.
The refugees accused Serbian troops of separating the women and children from the 20 men and herding the latter into a school, which was then set on fire.
The testimony came from a group of 174 refugees who reached Albania without any belongings and, in a few cases, without any shoes, the U.N. agency said. The group included 10 men.
Another 20 ethnic Albanians were killed near Suva Reka, about 35 miles southwest of Pristina, while 10 were killed near the northern Kosovo city of Podujevo, Kosovo Press reported.
Serbian authorities expelled all Western journalists from Yugoslavia on Thursday, but Belgrade quickly revised the order, allowing some members of the media to return.
On the return drive north from Macedonia on Friday afternoon, the familiar columns of gray smoke rose from mountain villages, suggesting that the Serbian “scorched earth” campaign was far from over.
There was no hint that morale is sinking among the soldiers and police operating new roadblocks on main roads throughout Kosovo, where the men in uniform were as proud of their Serbian defiance as they were angry at the NATO assaults.
A returning journalist caught Yugoslav army soldiers off guard at an impromptu roadblock where they had stopped cars carrying ethnic Albanians fleeing in the opposite direction.
The soldiers were looting some of the refugees’ belongings in a bend in the road through the mountains in southern Serbia, no more than a 10-minute drive from sanctuary in neighboring Macedonia.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
NATO has deployed an armada of more than 350 aircraft and numerous warships in its conflict with Yugoslavia, striking dozens of targets with bombs and cruise missiles. Serbia, the principal Yugoslav republic, possesses one of the largest militaries in Europe, including an aging but formidable missile defense system.
114,000 active duty soldiers, of which 14,000-18,000 are in Kosovo and 15,000 to 21,000 on the perimeter of Kosovo.
Artillery pieces: 1,400
Antiaircraft forces: 100 surface-to-air-missiles
Air defense artillery pieces: 1,850
Air Force: 240 combat aircraft
Mechanized forces: 1,270 tanks.
Russian-made missile system, serious threat to NATO aircraft.
Similar to system used by Iraq to attack allied planes securing no-fly zones
Susceptible to radar-seeking missiles
Fires command guided and homing missiles
Maximum high altitude: 37 miles (60 km)
Low altitude: 19 miles (30 km)
Minimum engagement range: 2.5 miles (4 km)
Speed: 2,128 mph
Ceiling: 59,400 feet (18,000 m)
Source: Jane’s Weapons Systems and Associated Press
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get the day's top news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.