Letter from Natasa Kandic (Humanitarian Law Centre, Belgrade)

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I am now in Belgrade and I plan to remain here a few days before leaving for Kosovo and Montenegro.

I received a letter from Prizren dated 4 May 1999, but it did not reach me until the 20th. It bears a Serbian PTT postal stamp and it was probably mailed by someone who left Prizren. The letter itself is printed in capital letters and unsigned, but it came from a very good friend of mine.

B. says that large refugee columns are moving towards the Vrbnice border crossing every day. There are three check-points before the Albanian border. He learned that many refugees had their identification papers torn up and that license plates from their cars were taken away. The remaining Albanians do not dare leave their homes. After mass expulsions of Albanians from the surrounding villages, the targets have now shifted to doctors, professors, lawyers, political activists and Albanians who worked for the OSCE or rented their houses to OSCE personnel. They are questioned by police and then expelled to Albania by force. B. says that some of the expelled sent signals that they were safe by contacting the Albanian media, but that others disappeared leaving no trace behind. About 650 Albanian families do not know what happened to their sons who were forcibly mobilized in the Yugoslav Army. Local authorities told them that they are digging trenches somewhere on the border with Albania.

Everybody fears paramilitary groups, unmarked cars, police questioning, possible expulsion and, as of late, hunger. Sick people do not dare go to the doctor and resort to traditional cures instead. People in bread queues say that remaining Albanians will have to pledge loyalty to the state or leave Kosovo. B. says that these rumors are killing them. They do not know what to do. If they go, this will mean leaving behind their homes, property and the town they love. If they stay, all they can expect is humiliation. If only there were some international organization in the area, they say, they would feel more secure and this would give them strength to persevere and stay there. Fear has taken such proportions that they do not dare tell anyone when they decide to leave.

There are not only bad news but also some good news today. In the case of Kosovo, good news is when I hear that police came, but all went fine, nobody was killed . On 21 May 1999, police searched about 200 Albanian flats in the Suncani breg section of Pristina. The tenants were asked to produce their identification papers and to report weapons and refugees, if any. My friends told me they were not beaten or harassed . A group of about 60 young people, including girls, were searched separately. Except for a few secondary school students, they were all university students. After a thorough search, most of them were released, but 18 were taken to the local police station, where they underwent questioning for several hours. Fourteen were then released, but two boys and two girls remained in custody. The four were taken away from a flat in which police found a uniform of the former Yugoslav People's Army.

People in Suncani breg say that one of their Serb neighbors will try to find out what has happened to them.

Intensive diplomatic efforts for resolving the Kosovo crisis prompted me to send a few stories about Kosovo to the Belgrade daily Danas. The editor told me that the texts were fantastic and revealing, but that he did not dare publish them.

On my way to work today I passed by some of the facilities destroyed by NATO. When I asked military authorities to grant us access to civilian facilities destroyed in the attacks and civilian witnesses of these attacks, my request was rudely turned down. We are therefore left only with newspaper reports. When I travel through Serbia, now more and more by side roads, I talk to people in villages and I see that they have no problem understanding what is going on.

They are fully aware that the most vital issue for Serbia at present is to call to account those who are responsible for everything that has happened. The general feeling, however, is that this is not possible at the moment.

More than 50,000 people have left Belgrade since 24 March 1999. It is not easy to describe life here. My friends abroad find it very hard to believe when I tell them that there are people in the streets just like before, that local cafes are busy even when the sirens go off, that taxies circle the city at night when the streets are completely dark and that I don't know anyone who goes to air raid shelters. Electricity and water supply cuts mean that beside queuing for bread people now have to find ways to fetch drinking water too. Common sense has it that candles should be bought in the church because they are much cheaper there and because they last much longer than the decorative candles sold in household supply stores.

Until 24 March 1999, there were about 100 Albanian students in Belgrade. Now only a few have remained. On 13 May 1999 police raided and searched a flat at No. 5, Klara Cetkin Street in New Belgrade. Four students (Edon Hajrullaga, Bekim Blakj, Safet Blakj and Luigj Ndue) were taken away. Luigj, who has been living on the same address for the past six years, was just about to defend a master s thesis at the Faculty of Special Education in Belgrade. When the bombing started, he invited the other three students who lived in the Students Hostel to come to his flat. One neighbor said she saw police taking the boys away, but added that a girl with short hair was also taken with them.

A check in Belgrade court registers shows that there is nothing on them and, for the time being, police refuse to give any information.

People in Serbia by and large support the G-8 proposal for ending the war. This is evident from statements by high-ranking officials of the ruling party and other government officials.

More and more reports speak about Albanian refugees who were forced to leave their homes because of NATO air raids. One can hear this not only from politicians but also from law experts. When the Belgrade Law School was asked by JURIST: The Law Professors' Network from Pittsburgh University whether Yugoslav armed forces had responded to NATO attacks by deportation and forcible transfer of Albanian population , the reply was that Albanians were fleeing Kosovo because of NATO bombs. The same school said that that trains reaching Belgrade everyday bring Albanians, Serbs, Turks and others who have fled Kosovo.

For the sake of facts, I would like to quote here what one Albanian from Pec said about expulsions of Albanians from that town (I have interviewed 98 Albanians expelled from Pec and they have all corroborated his story):

"Friday, 26 March. We were sitting at the table when a group of about 20 people in uniforms and red berets accompanied by three civilians raided our home. None of them wore masks. Their uniforms looked like army uniforms. I recognized some of them as people from the Brzhenik I section of the town. They shouted at us You have one minute to leave . My daughter in law put her baby in the cradle and then one of the uniformed men kicked it so hard that the baby fell out of the cradle and started to scream. We all started to leave the house except my old father who cannot walk. One of them ordered my son Blerim to stay behind. My son remained silent but my wife and I started to cry and plead with them to let us stay too. My son then cried that he would stay behind and that we should go. My wife and I would not budge, but they started shoving us and pushing us out by our shoulders. When I saw a rifle pointed at Blerim's temple, I tried to go back and help him, but then I heard a shot and saw Blerim taken up in the air before he crumpled down in a heap at my father s feet. They got hold of me too, but then my wife rushed and took me out of the room. When we left the room we heard three more shots. I heard them shouting that we should go to Clinton. Blerim's body was left behind. We tried to go to our cousins house but streets were crammed with people and police ordered us to join one of the columns.

"They also told us that the road to Montenegro is safe."

Best regards, Natasa Kandic
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