NATO, British leaders allege 'genocide' in Kosovo
Refugees pour across borders
March 29, 1999
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- As frightened Kosovars continued their exodus by the thousands Monday, some international leaders said that Serb actions against ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia amount to genocide.
"We are confronting a regime which is intent on genocide," said British Defense Secretary George Robertson.
NATO said it is gathering evidence of genocide to present to the international war crimes tribunal for possible prosecution.
More than 500,000 ethnic Albanians have fled what NATO calls a "scorched earth policy" by Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. Many have reported witnessing executions, including the killings of parents or children. In some cases, refugees said whole neighborhoods were wiped out, and homes were torched.
Some Kosovars crossed into Albania on tractors and on foot Sunday, clutching their children. One woman said men from her village were taken two by two, and shot. Her own son was killed, she told CNN.
"I've seen massacres in Kosovo," an elderly refugee told CNN on Sunday. "I've seen the Serbs cutting people's throats."
However, the reports of atrocities could not be independently verified. Yugoslavian officials denied that war crimes were taking place, and attributed the flow of displaced people to NATO airstrikes, saying Kosovars were fleeing the NATO attacks.
NATO Secretary General Javier Solano planned to meet with representatives of the European Union on Monday to develop an emergency plan to meet the needs of the refugees.
More than 1 million may be displaced
One Kosovo official estimated the number of displaced could exceed 1 million. Serbs "are continuing ltheir policy of ethnic cleansing on a grand scale," Bajram Gecha of the Kosovo Crisis Committee told CNN on Sunday.
"Whether we like it or not, we have to admit that we are on the brink of a major humanitarian disaster in Kosovo, the likes of which have not been seen in Europe since the closing stages of World War II," said NATO spokesman Jamie Shea.
Shea expressed concern that the majority of refugees are women and children. "What happened to the males between the ages of l6 and 60?" he asked.
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.
"I think it's genocide by any definition, but specifically genocide by the definition of the convention against genocide which over 100 countries are parties to, including the United States, Europe and Yugoslavia," said Barry Carter, a professor at the Georgetown University Law School.
The U.N. convention signed in 1948 says genocide involves an intent to destroy -- in whole or in part -- a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.
But so far, in the United States, the Clinton Administration has used the word "genocide" sparingly, and only in connection with the war crimes tribunal, saying it will assist in efforts to prosecute anyone responsible for ordering and carrying out war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Kosovo.
The 1948 convention says signatory nations may ask the U.N. to take such action as they consider appropriate for the porevention and suppression of acts of genocide.
KLA representative cites 'concentration camps'
A senior representative of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which is fighting for Kosovo's independence from Yugoslavia, says Serbian police and paramilitary forces are herding people into concentration camps and conducting mass executions.
In a telephone interview on Sunday 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."
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."
Verification of reports difficult
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.
People taken in trucks, Kosovars say
Kosovars escaping from the city of Pec into nearby Montenegro also said Serbians had committed mass executions in the streets, taken many people away in covered trucks to undisclosed locations, and moved into the houses from which they evicted ethnic Albanians, eyewitnesses told CNN.
That Serbians have reportedly subjected a city the size of Pec, with about 90,000 inhabitants, instead of smaller villages to such efforts suggests they have an organized plan for the removal of ethnic Albanians, some Kosovars told CNN.
Refugees heading into Albania gave similar accounts of violence and terror. Albania is ill-equipped to handle the influx of thousands of people. As many as 20,000 were expected Monday.
"Fortunately, I thank God, I saved my 15-year-old son," said Fehmije Haxhiolli, who escaped into Albania with an extended family of 30. "I put a dress on him and a shawl, and the Serbs thought he was a woman."
Haxhiolli said the Serbs told the family they would be shot if they were still in Kosovo the following morning.
U.N. officials characterize the situation in Albania and other economically poor border states as desperate, predicting the current steady flow of refugees could turn into a massive flood.
Yugoslav minister denies ethnic cleansing
A top Yugoslavian official denied that his country is committing an ethnic cleansing.
"We need the Albanians in our state," Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic told CNN. He insisted Kosovo rebels provoked Serbian attacks, and gave a long list of what he said were historic Albanian transgressions against Serbians.
"Who committed genocide against whom?" he asked.
The Yugoslav army and Serbian special police forces were pursuing ethnic Albanians relentlessly, NATO said, chasing them from their homes before burning houses to the ground.
Ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova was believed to be in hiding, U.S. officials said.
Alleged paramilitary link
The Serbs' attacks have worsened, NATO said, since bombings began last week. NATO's campaign was launched to try to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to sign a peace agreement that would stop the conflict between the Serbs and ethnic Albanians who make up the majority of the Kosovo province.
NATO said its bombing campaign would continue in an effort to stop "genocidal" attacks.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said Sunday that NATO had received reports that a notorious Serbian paramilitary force known as the Tigers, linked to atrocities in Serbian campaigns in Bosnia some years ago, is operating in Kosovo.
But Zeljko Raznjatovic, the leader of the group, denied NATO's allegation that he was in the war-torn province.
"I am here in Belgrade," said Raznjatovic, otherwise known as Arkan, in an interview with Reuters television Sunday.
Correspondents Mike Hanna, Chris Burns, Matthew Chance, Jonathan Aiken and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.
Kosovars flee region as NATO strikes enter Day 5
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