Skip to comments.Dead or Alive : Kosovo's Missing Serbs
Posted on 02/06/2002 6:55:35 PM PST by Ichabod Walrus
Dead or Alive
NIN, Belgrade, FR Yugoslavia, 10 May 2001
by Slobodan Reljic
Dusko Djinovic (39), a Serb from Orahovac, an electrician, was accosted on July 17, 1998 at the entrance to Orahovac by his ethnic Albanian acquaintances wearing Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) uniforms. They took him away. It is not known what happened to Dusko after that.
Briefly, a drama. Dusko's cousin Ranko Djinovic cannot accept that a loved one can disappear just like that. "We were born on the same day and celebrated our birthdays together. He was a good man. He enlightened our area. He did good deeds and helped many without any compensation... He was innocent. He was accosted by his neighbors, people he knew, and taken away. And no one has done anything to find out what happened to him... God willing, he may still be alive... I sometimes imagine that he visits our houses razed to the ground in Kosovo. He rebuilds them slowly, brick by brick. He fixes desecrated graves, lights candles in destroyed churches. It seems to me that we must see each other again. I do not want to even consider a different possibility." Ranko Djinovic is the president of the Association of Families of Abducted and Missing Persons from Kosovo and Metohija. His association has a list of 1,300 persons that met a similar fate.
Recently they protested in front of the Serbian Parliament. They were sent from there to the government. They had many more public protests before this one. "If we didn't protest, they would forget about us. So far, more than 120,000 citizens have signed our petition 'dead or alive'. President Kostunica received us three times. We also protest in front of the embassies of NATO countries. 'Our hopes - in your hands' is the name of that action. They must do something. More than 200 abductors from the KLA live undisturbed in Kosovo. Some of them are senior political leaders. Some participate in the government," says Djinovic.
Records of the International Red Cross register 5,300 requests for the search for the missing. Every thorough analysis shows the relative nature of this figure. For example, the figure includes ethnic Albanians who were or are still serving sentences in Serbian prisons. On the other hand, the Humanitarian Law Fund (FHP) has established that between June 12, 1999, the arrival of KFOR, and the end of year 2000, "932 non-Albanians were abducted or went missing" which is twice as many as the IRC claims. Panic and confusion, possibility that whole families have disappeared so that no one can report their disappearance, surprising inefficiency of the military and civilian services in Kosovo, inability to unify statistical data and adopt a single method for keeping track of the missing, make it impossible to reach any definite count in this tragedy.
For example the book "Abductions and Disappearances of Non-Albanians in Kosovo" (compiled by Ljiljana Bogdanovic) published by the FHP emphasizes in its introduction that the data presented in the book "do not give a full picture about the disappeared Serbs, Roma, Bosniaks, Montenegrins and members of the Yugoslav Army and the Police. The report does not encompass disappearances from 1998 and those case of disappearances dating from after the arrival of KFOR that the FHP was unable to independently verify."
The Fund estimates that during the NATO bombardment "more than 1,500 non-Albanians went missing after incarceration," and that since the arrival of KFOR another 593 non-Albanians have gone missing, most of them civilians. Out of that number, it has been established that 257 persons were arrested by the KLA, while another 336 "went missing under unclear circumstances". Paradoxically, "most disappearances took places in the towns where, during the NATO bombardment, there was no mass violence of the Serb forces against ethnic Albanian civilians."
The fact that in "the second half of 1999 and in 2000 more than 300 ethnic Albanians went missing and that there are indications that these abductions have political motivation" indicates that what is happening in Kosovo is not Kouchner's "heightened emotions", "reprisals against Serb violence against ethnic Albanians" or "a normal occurrence after a change of authority".
The international administration that is in charge of Kosovo obviously has scant knowledge of the ethnic Albanian society there. The strategic decision of the NATO to transform its wartime allies in the war against the Yugoslav Army into the Kosovo Protection Corps is becoming an unsolvable problem for the KFOR and UNMiK. Ethnic Albanians abused that as amnesty for everything they did and are still doing. "Transparency", so dear to the westerners, is an alien value to the society based on the work of clans and to the government based on deals made between powerful clans. Thus, the pressure of ethnic Albanians on unprotected Serbs, Bosniaks, Roma and others, is now moving to inter-Albanian showdowns.
Charms of Politics
Ljiljana Bogdanovic, a former FHP employee (FHP has an office in Pristina) used the euphemism "somewhat criminal society" to describe for NIN the current situation. However, the detailed explanation of what she meant by that indicated that essentially witnesses (naturally not because of flourishing freedom) mostly refuse to talk about what they have seen and what they know. Blagojevic admits that UNMiK "is not really suited for police work". For example, when they go to pick up a witness "they surround a building, enter with weapons in hands, while witnesses escape through windows". Such a method of shedding light on fates of missing persons in "somewhat unusual symbiosis" of drastic differences is simply futile.
President of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights Sefko Alomerovic is more specific regarding that issue. "I told them (UNMiK) at the round table discussion of the Fund regarding the presentation of the book on March 21, in response to their story that some abduction cases are being politicized, that above all the international community has introduced politics into these abductions. Admit that you haven't done anything here for a year and a half, and then after October 5 you started working on these cases. What is that if not politicization?"
Alomerovic has in the past equally adamantly squared off with the Serbian authorities over grave violations of human rights in the early nineties, in Sandzak. "Then they said that I hate Serbs." Now they accuse him of being a Serb hireling. "Ridiculous," he says. It is obvious that in his public appearances and reports of the Helsinki Committee for Sandzak Alomerovic uses information that directly incriminates the people in Kosovo, including UNMiK. "About 15 percent of abducted individuals were in their vehicles at the time of abduction. Tens of trucks have been abducted. These trucks are now crisscrossing Kosovo. They represent valid material evidence. Why don't they stop and check how the current owners ended up with those vehicles? But they haven't done literally anything."
The extent of "unreal Kosovo reality" is indicated by the impotence of courts and UNMiK to carry out a reconstruction and investigation on the spot of the alleged crime in a trial of one Serb in connection with Racak [killings]. Residents of the village of Racak twice chased away employees of an independent court together with armed UNMiK guards. The event, besides illustrating the extent to which the international administration truly controls Kosovo, prompts another question: why do residents of Racak so adamantly oppose attempts to establish the truth about the killings? Would it not make sense if they insisted that the truth about the massacre in Racak be established? (Would they allow William Walker to conduct an investigation?)
Gradimir Nalic, advisor of the president of FR Yugoslavia for human rights, is trying to speed up the whole process of search for the missing persons. He has traveled to Kosovo, and support of the United Nations Human Rights Commission based in Geneva is being sought. "We are close to the establishment of cooperation between the KFOR unit for search for missing persons and the federal and Serbian police," Nalic said in an interview. "A common database would be an important step, as well as the appointment of contact officers."
Federal authorities are working on including our forensic scientists in the teams that are investigating mass or unmarked graves. Dr. Djordje Alempijevic from the Institute for Forensic Medicine in Belgrade has already participated in the investigation after the destruction of a bus that was blown up near Podujevo in February. "Families find it very important that 'their', trusted forensic scientist participate in the identification process," he explains the significance of this act. "Thereby convinced in the accuracy of the identification of the remains, they can with dignity bury their loved ones."
View From Sandzak
Autopsy results provided by forensic scientists are also important in court trials as they establish the manner of death. Actually, it is extremely important to establish in these investigations the way in which the victim was killed. The International Commission for Missing Persons in the Former Yugoslavia (ICMP), founded in 1996 by Bob Dole, which has laboratories in Bosnia and Croatia, is working on setting up a laboratory in Belgrade. That should bring financial assistance. Although laboratories in Belgrade and Novi Sad can do the same type of work, the chemicals are expensive. And participation in the ICMP network provides for exchanges of data between different sides, i.e., "progress".
Gradimir Nalic is also trying to mediate the establishment of links between Serb and ethnic Albanian families of the missing persons. However, ethnic Albanians failed to react even to the public call to cooperation by the Association of the Families of Abducted and Missing Persons in December 2000. "You know very well that our association on several occasions called for dialog and cooperation," Ranko Djinovic wrote, listing seven calls for cooperation sent through distinguished and independent mediators. "Let us overcome our differences in the name of one goal... We are confident that you agree that it is better to start even futile talks than to spin the wheel of intolerance." The reply still hasn't arrived.
The pressure of the international community to release ethnic Albanian prisoners from the Serbian prisons and pardons issued for that purpose additionally rile relatives of the abducted Serbs, Bosniaks, Roma and others. However, it is questionable whether more can be achieved by conditioning further releases by cooperation on the search for the missing. Actually, only after the establishment of law and order in Kosovo the process of shedding light on the fates of the missing persons could finally start. But the Kosovo society is a "black box" both for the authorities in FR Yugoslavia and UNMiK.
Our investigation indicated that so far Sandzak offers the only way to take a peek into relations in Kosovo. Sefko Alomerovic says that the Helsinki Committee for Sandzak had 152 activists in Kosovo but that their number has been halved. "However, the remaining activists are still well positioned". Alomerovic offered shelter to 75 ethnic Albanians in his home in Novi Pazar during the bombardment. During the war he went to Kosovo to help.
By the way, the connections between Novi Pazar and Kosovo are intense. For example, Sulejman Ugljanin, the president of the Bosniak National Council for Sandzak (BNVS) "is by origin an ethnic Albanian, which is why some Muslims-Bosniaks from Sandzak claimed as early as 1990 that from the very start he conducted pro-Albanian rather than pro-Bosniak policies". Rasim Ljajic also has political contacts in Kosovo and used to write a column in Zeri. Kosovo SDA participated through Numan Balic in Thaci's government immediately after the end of the bombardment.
However, the Helsinki Committee assessed in the summer of 1999 that "more than 70 percent of Muslims-Bosniaks, counting those who left during the military clashes in 1998 and in the spring of 1999 are currently outside Kosovo. They haven't returned because of the violence perpetrated by the KLA." After the arrival of KFOR "between 40 and 45 thousands of Muslims-Bosniaks left Kosovo." The Helsinki Committee at the moment has information about 72 missing Muslim and 487 Serbs. The Committee points out that "most of abducted and murdered Muslims-Bosniaks were not in Kosovo during the war."
The cynicism with which solidarity of Bosniaks in suppression of information about abductions is sought is beyond imagination. In "highest political and military organizations", those who seek their missing relatives are usually told "in the form of advice" that they "should not incriminate their brothers in blood and faith (Albanians)" and report cases to KFOR and alarm the public. "Relatives of abducted Muslims-Bosniaks from Pec got the same advice from Hashim Thaci and Agim Cheku when they managed to reach them."
The culmination (probably) happened in the summer of 1999 when a hodza [Muslim cleric] from Sjenica, Dzevdet Dragalovcanin (42) was abducted. "At the time of abduction he wore the religious garb, i.e. the civilian suit with almedija (Islamic cap) on the head". His family unsuccessfully sought him through their ethnic Albanian connections and KFOR, for fifteen days. When the father of the abducted was received by the director of medresa [Islamic religious school] in Pristina Naim Trnava "he rejected any possibility of KLA involvement in Dzevdet's disappearance because (Albanians) could not do something like that to their brothers in blood and faith." He also claimed that hodza could have only been killed "outside Kosovo" and most likely by "the enemy (Serbs)". However, using the information obtained by the Helsinki Committee for Sandzak, the father found the corpse in the morgue in Pec.
The Committee puts in focus revenge attacks that were justified to a certain extent by some officials of the international community. "In Bosnia (where there were many more serious crimes), apart from one unclear case, not a single revenge murder or attack has been recorded." Abductions and numerous "disappearances", as well as murders and destruction of property and sacred sites are definitely more than a string of spontaneous revenge attacks. "There are also indications, as well as statements (in form of both warnings and advice), some of them coming from well-meaning ethnic Albanians to their non-Albanian friends, that indicate that all of this is the product of an official policy and practice of the KLA and its political wing."
As the problem of the missing and abducted is located in the triangle between the authorities in Belgrade, which despite finally expressed good will and more intensive involvement have very little opportunity for action, international forces (UNMiK, KFOR) that are not interested in pursuing justice and continue the fight for human rights started from high above because of possibility that their safety may be endangered, and the Albanian society, which, whatever term we used to describe it ("somewhat criminal" or "opaque"), has an absolutely negative attitude regarding the establishment of any form of contacts with Serbs - even if those contacts would assist the search for missing persons - the families of the missing can only wait for a better cooperation between the authorities and the international administration in Kosovo. Families that are still in Kosovo can only hope that something in the policies of the ethnic Albanian elite may change. But it is obvious that many chances have been missed for good. "Witnesses and victims of illegal imprisonment point out that in June 1999 KFOR was on several occasions informed about the locations of illegal prisons and failed to do anything." (FHP)
Any explanation can only sound cynical. Similarly, it is troubling to take a calculator and compute that the number of missing ethnic Albanians (after most of them were released from Serbian prisons, and without comparison with the list of refugees, which UNMiK refused to do in response to a federal government request) of about 3,000 is getting close to the number of missing Serbs, Bosniaks and Roma in Kosovo (more than 1,500). That simple proportionality (ethnic Albanians are 90 percent of population in Kosovo) forces the international community and NATO and their intervention justified by ethical reasons and violations of human rights to face a dilemma: who should be protected in Kosovo? Of course such and similar questions do not change anything. What has been done, has been done. But the international community could at least be reminded that after so many worn out phrases it is time to start more decisively to work on resolving those "mysteries in Kosovo". If Sefko Alomerovic claims that there are seven cases that are so "simple" that it would be extremely easy to issue indictments in those cases, then UNMiK and judiciary could show either some interest in seeing justice done or at least acquitting themselves of responsibility. Every different behavior is nothing but politicization of horrific family tragedies. And no one has the right to do that. That is the point at which all of the involved sides could immediately meet.