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Yugoslavia: Human Rights Group Chronicles Atrocities In Kosovo

Munich, 5 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The international organization Human Rights Watch has issued a detailed report accusing the Serbian special police and the Yugoslav army of executing civilians, destroying civilian property, and attacking humanitarian aid workers.

The Brussels-based organization said the 75-page report details a pattern of atrocities and breaches of international law between February and early September.

The European director of the organization, Lotte Leicht, says the report also condemns the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) for violating the laws of war by taking civilian hostages and committing summary executions.

She said Human Rights Watch condemns these crimes. But she says they have occurred on a lesser scale than those committed by Serbian forces.

The report is sharply critical of the failure of the West to take decisive action against the Serbian authorities. In one paragraph it says: "it has been clear for six months that the Serbs are conducting a brutal war against civilians in Kosovo. But they are operating in a climate of impunity. The atrocities we see today are taking place because the West failed to respond forcefully enough to Serbian aggression from the very beginning."

The Human Rights Watch report paints a bleak picture of the situation of the estimated 250,000 people who fled Serbian attacks on their villages. It says "many of them are women and children living without shelter in the mountains and the woods where harsh winter conditions will strike in the coming weeks."

The report criticizes the Yugoslav government for restricting the ability of humanitarian aid workers to adequately help these people.

According to the report, at least one hundred ethnic Albanians have disappeared in Kosovo since February. It says about half of them were last seen in the custody of the police. It charges that the use of torture against detainees is widespread and says that five people are known to have died from abuse in prison.

The report quotes the Yugoslav government as saying that 538 ethnic Albanians have been arrested and charged with committing terrorist acts. It says those detained in July and August included human rights activists, humanitarian aid workers, political party members, doctors and lawyers. It says that according to the information it has received, many of them were physically abused.

The Human Rights Watch report provides details of several Serbian attacks on villages since early this year. Among them is the one the Drenica region in late February and early March, which is considered a "watershed" by human rights observers. Three villages were attacked by artillery, helicopters and armored vehicles. Human Rights Watch says at least 83 people were killed, including 24 women and children.

The reports adds "the evidence strongly suggests that at least 17 people were executed after they had been detained or surrendered."

The report issued by human Rights Watch contains three appendices providing eyewitness reports of alleged Serbian atrocities in late September.