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Yugoslavia: The Conflict In Kosovo Becomes Increasingly Violent

  • Ben Partridge

London, 21 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International says that reports of the summary execution of at least eight men in Kosovo and the 'disappearance' of another eight illustrates "an ongoing pattern of grossly excessive use of force by Serbian police".

The executions were reported in the village of Ljubenic, and the disappearances in Novi Poklek, both at the end of May.

Today's report is the fifth in a series describing Amnesty International's concerns about the "human rights crisis" in Kosovo.

Based on information gathered during a recent AI mission to the region, it describes how large-scale police operations in response to real or alleged attacks on police patrols by armed ethnic Albanians have been "characterized by a disproportionate use of force.

The report says: "Unarmed civilians, unconnected with any of these attacks, are being injured, killed or even summarily executed by a police force apparently often out of control." Paul Miller, an Amnesty International researcher on former Yugoslavia who was recently in Kosovo said there's a continual pattern of behavior on the part of the police.

"There's a continual pattern on the part of the police, the Serbian police in Kosovo, where they seem to have re-enacted the same scenario on multiple occasions. This is a scenario where the police are attacked, or believed they have been attacked by the Kosovo Liberation Army, and then they respond with excessive force. Going house to house, taking men out of the houses and, in some of these incidents, the men have been summarily executed on the spot, or they still remain unaccounted for."

The new report describes how on May 25 eight men -- aged between 22 and 68 -- were killed after a large police force arrived at Ljubenic, a village north of Decani after an incident in which a civilian car was shot at by armed men. One or two police or reserve officers were traveling in the car.

Following the incident, a large number of police officers -- some in armored vehicles -- arrived at Ljubenic, positioned themselves on the outskirts, and started to fire at the Albanian part of the village, using artillery and other weapons for up to 30 minutes.

They then went from house to house. In one incident, they ordered the occupants out. The police separated the men -- who were reportedly unarmed -- from the women and children, and started to beat them. The men were then ordered to run, and were shot at. Altogether four men were killed in this incident, and a further four in other incidents in the village.

The "disappearance" of the eight from Novi Poklek near Glogovac followed their detention after an incident May 31 in which a police officer was involved in a car crash. It has not been established whether the crash happened because the car was fired at.

That afternoon, a large force of police arrived in several dozen vehicles, and began firing on the houses from them. Police patrols started to go from house to house, separating men from women and children. Eight men remain unaccounted for.

The bodies of two other men were reportedly found at the scene, but it has not yet been possible to establish how they died.

A group of lawyers from Pristina, acting for the relatives of the missing men, wrote to the Serbian and Federal judicial authorities claiming that nine men, aged between 15 and 60, had been killed. They asked for an investigation into the incident, for the bodies to be located, an autopsy to be performed, and for the bodies to be handed over to the relatives for burial. Their letter has been acknowledged by the district court but no other replies had been received by the authorities by the end of June.

Amnesty's Paul Miller says Kosovo needs a professional police that respects international human rights standards.

"The time is long overdue. The Serbian authorities need to take seriously what we and other organizations are saying. They have to have proper and professional police force there which respects international standards which is trained to respect people, and not behave in this arbitrary way in which they continue to do."

AI says the Serbian authorities should order prompt and impartial investigations into the incidents take immediate steps to determine the fate and whereabouts of the eight men reportedly disappeared, and bring any police officers responsible for excessive use of force, unlawful killings, or "disappearances" promptly to justice.