KLA leader: Serbs executing, rounding up civilians
Ethnic Albanian pleads for NATO ground troops
March 28, 1999
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- A senior representative of the Kosovo Liberation Army says Serbian police and paramilitary forces are herding people into concentration camps, conducting mass executions and "terrorizing" ethnic Albanians in the province.
In a telephone interview with CNN from his hiding place near Pristina, Hashim Thaqi, one of the KLA delegates who signed the Western-brokered Kosovo peace deal, pleaded for intervention by NATO ground troops to stop the violence.
"Only NATO troops can save the people of Kosovo from further catastrophe," Thaqi said. "This is the hour of need for Kosovo."
Yugoslav officials have denied claims by ethnic Albanians that such atrocities are being carried out in Kosovo. But senior U.S. administration officials, NATO representatives and humanitarian groups have said a calculated campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo has intensified since the beginning of NATO's military campaign against Yugoslavia.
The Kosovo Liberation Army is fighting for Kosovo's independence from Yugoslavia.
Thaqi said 20,000 people from the town of Drenica, including elderly women and young children, have been taken to an undisclosed location. He said 20,000 residents of another town were taken to a munitions factory, where they have been held for four days.
"We can openly say there are concentration camps in Kosovo now," he said. "It is of utmost importance that humanitarian groups and journalists see the truth for themselves."
Independent verification of ethnic Albanian claims of human rights abuses is difficult because most international observers, humanitarian workers and journalists have either left Kosovo or were expelled by Serbian officials.
Thaqi said 30 people were executed in one town Saturday night and 22 teachers were hanged in front of their students in another area. He estimated that 500,000 ethnic Albanians had fled into dense woods, and he said thousands were trying to flee across the province's borders into neighboring countries.
In Pristina, the provincial capital, Thaqi said there appeared to be a systematic campaign to wipe out the ethnic Albanian population.
"Pristina today is almost a dead city. There are executions happening," Thaqi said. "Many intellectuals are being killed, and whole neighborhoods are being ethnically cleansed by the paramilitary forces, Serbian military and police forces.
"The shops and houses are all being burned," he said.
Thaqi said KLA fighters have not fled the province and are "trying to defend the civilian population." He said they have met with some success in parts of Pristina.
Leaders of NATO countries have said repeatedly that they have no plans to introduce ground troops in a combat role in Kosovo.
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