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Balkan Report: January 26, 2001

26 January 2001, Volume 5, Number 7

WHAT HAPPENED IN RECAK? Several German-language newspapers have recently run highly controversial articles about how to interpret the latest findings of a Finnish forensic team in Kosova. The Finns conducted an autopsy of 40 bodies believed to be of Albanians killed in the massacre of Recak on 15 January 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 1999). The "Berliner Zeitung" claimed on 17 January that the forensic experts prepared a report that "does not contain any proof of the alleged massacre." The original report is due to be published in an upcoming issue of "Forensic Science International."

In a commentary on 19 January, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" suggested that the "Berliner Zeitung" journalists grossly misrepresented the Finnish report. The Frankfurt daily suggested that they are helping "faithful supporters of the conspiracy theory, according to which bellicose NATO -- instigated by the U.S. -- launched the air war against Yugoslavia, deliberately and by misleading the public." It also linked the "Berliner Zeitung's" account to the recent debate about NATO's use of ammunition coated with depleted uranium (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 January 2001).

Then on 20 January, the Frankfurt daily dismissed the account by the "Berliner Zeitung" outright. It said that "the report of the Finnish forensic experts does not...rule out the possibility that the Albanians were victims of a massacre." The daily added that the Finnish report "only describes the circumstances and methods of the investigation and draws some possible conclusions, taking into account, however, the difficulties of the experts' work."

The arguments of the "Berliner Zeitung" certainly do seem questionable. The daily argued that the Finnish team was unable to confirm that the bodies it investigated did indeed come from Recak. The team could neither clarify the events before the autopsy, nor precisely where each of the victims was killed. The daily also claims that nobody looked into the possibility that some of the victims may have been Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) fighters, as Belgrade maintains.

But the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" pointed out that the chain of events is easy to reconstruct. On 15 January there were clashes between Serbian police and UCK fighters, according to sources from both sides. UCK officials then reported seven UCK fighters killed, while Serbian police said that they killed "15 terrorists." The following day the death toll stood at 45, including an 18-year-old woman and a 12-year-old child. OSCE Chief of Mission William Walker reported on 16 January 1999 that 20 of the victims were found in a dried-out riverbed, while another 25 bodies were spread throughout the village. Apparently relatives of five victims buried them in Recak, while Serbian police took the bodies of the other 40 victims from the mosque in Recak to Prishtina on 17 January 1999.

There, a mixed Belarusian and Serbian forensic team conducted a first autopsy and issued a report soon afterwards. They claimed that there was no sign that the shots had been fired at the victims at close range. The report also claimed that a paraffin test showed that the victims had used firearms themselves.

Those were the same bodies on which the Finnish forensic team conducted an autopsy later. The first report of the Finnish experts, published on 17 March 1999, dismissed the findings from the Belarusian and Serbian paraffin test, arguing that this technology has been considered outdated since the 1960s. The Finns added that contemporary tests with an electron microscope did not show traces of gunpowder on the hands of the victims.

Because the forensic experts could not verify the temperature and other conditions obtaining during the transport of the bodies from Recak to Prishtina, and because they could not investigate the site of the massacre, they were unable to confirm exactly where the bodies came from or when the victims died. But in their first report, the head of the team, Helena Ranta, described the incident in Recak as a "crime against humanity." She argued that the victims did not carry any ammunition, and that there were no signs that the corpses had been looted, since the experts found money in the victims' pockets.

The "Berliner Zeitung" acknowledges that the bodies showed between one and 20 wounds caused by bullets. But it interprets the lack of gunpowder traces in a rather paradoxical way, arguing that "in only one case did the forensic experts find traces of gunpowder, which would point to an execution."

The daily further argues that a massacre did not take place by quoting an unnamed Canadian journalist, who claims that Ranta raised doubts about a mass execution in a private conversation.

Furthermore, the daily added that Ranta presented another report to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on 21 June 2000, and that the report has remained secret ever since. A presentation of her findings before officials from EU member states in Brussels also remains secret, according to the "Berliner Zeitung," which added that not even members of the European Parliament were allowed to see the minutes of Ranta's presentation. Thus the daily suggests -- but cannot prove -- that Ranta probably raised doubts about a massacre before both the tribunal and the EU officials.

The German Foreign Ministry, however, dismissed that theory. It argues that the findings have not been released to the public pending the conclusion of investigations by the tribunal, but not to cover up the truth. And a tribunal spokeswoman told the "Berliner Zeitung" on 18 January that "we have enough proof from different sources...that civilians were massacred in Recak."

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," furthermore, recalled that the NATO air raids did not come as a response to the Recak massacre. After Recak, the international community made even stronger efforts to obtain a political solution to the crisis through the Rambouillet negotiations. The air raids started only after the negotiations failed due to a lack of Serbian cooperation.

The daily also recalls that about 2,000 ethnic Albanians had been killed in Kosova already in 1998, and that an estimated 10,000 more were killed during the war of 1999. It concludes by saying that "everything indicates that during the air raids between March 1999 and June 1999, [Serbian and Yugoslav forces used] the same tactics of genocide and expulsion as they had the previous year, just more intensely. The conclusion that it was genocide -- according to the definition in the UN Convention -- does not change just because the entire Kosovar Albanian people was not killed in the process." (Fabian Schmidt)

DEMACI SPEAKS OUT: THERE IS NO TRUST. The UN administration in Kosova, UNMIK, got a new boss recently: former Danish Defense Minister Hans Haekkerup. He is the antithesis of his flamboyant French predecessor, Bernard Kouchner. Haekkerup has been quick to readjust UNMIK's goals, postponing elections set for the spring and delaying the return of some 100,000 displaced Serbs until ethnic violence stops (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 January 2001).

In Prishtina recently, RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele spoke with Kosova's leading human-rights activist, Adem Demaci. He was known during communist times as "the Kosovar Mandela" because of the long years he spent as a political prisoner. During the recent conflict in Kosova, Demaci briefly acted as a political spokesman for the UCK.

Demaci talked to Naegele in Serbo-Croatian about the UN's role in the province and of the many difficulties still facing Kosova. Here is Naegele's report:

Adem Demaci, like many Kosovar Albanians, is sorry to see Bernard Kouchner leave, and he is wary about what changes Haekkerup will bring.

As Demaci puts it, "Haekkerup is a lawyer and a soldier, while Kouchner is a true humanitarian." But, Demaci adds, while Kouchner sought to heal the wounds of years of ethnic violence, the time had come to regulate Kosova's legal system and government. He predicts Haekkerup's experience bodes well for Kosova's future.

Haekkerup said recently that he hopes to resolve Kosova's status in three to four years, while faithfully abiding by UN Security Council Resolution 1244. That resolution provided the legal framework for the NATO-led military occupation, establishing "an interim administration for Kosovo" under which the people of Kosova can enjoy "substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."

But Haekkerup has indefinitely postponed legislative elections originally expected in the spring of this year. The international community, particularly the OSCE, has been wary of elections that could result in a new assembly declaring full independence from Belgrade.

Demaci says it's not clear how the Kosova question will be solved because everything else remains unresolved: "Many forces and interests divide the international community. Some say Kosova should gain independence and thereby resolve this crisis in this part of the Balkans once and for all. Other forces in the West are not interested in seeing Kosova independent since they are more interested in Serbia. So these conflicting interests are clashing at Kosova's expense."

Demaci adds that criminals are taking advantage of the situation, because the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force and the UN police "are above the events." He says security forces are not rooted in society and do not have the opportunity to form their own networks to track down and apprehend criminals. (That, however, may change with the development of a UN-supervised local police force, the Kosova Police Service.)

Demaci argues: "I say that nothing has been resolved. We have a situation now in which we don't know who the criminals are. Bombs went off at the Yugoslav mission in Prishtina [in November]. We've had murders, and four Ashkali [Albanian-speaking Roma] were murdered. Albanians from both sides [of the political spectrum] have been killed. Old [UCK] fighters and politicians are being murdered. We don't have a real picture [of what's going on]."

Demaci says uncertainty over Kosova's status is aggravating matters. He believes that the political temperature in the province has been rising ever since pacifist Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova, or LDK, won a landslide victory in local elections last October.

Demaci believes that people who fought for Kosova to be free, who lost family members, and who lost everything else cannot look at this impassively. And he says that the LDK's people did not suffer many casualties but rather watched and waited to see how things would turn out.

At the funeral of Rugova's murdered media adviser Xhemail Mustafa in November, Demaci called on those who lost the elections to accept the result without seeking revenge.

Demaci served as the political representative of the UCK from August 1998 to February 1999. He says 20,000 to 30,000 people were actively engaged as UCK fighters. Hundreds of thousands of Kosovar families found themselves surrounded, expelled, attacked, or forced to hide. In the end, he says, almost a million people were affected.

Now that Rugova's LDK has the majority, Demaci says that many Kosovar Albanians who suffered think the LDK's victory means they have lost something. "The political level of our people is quite low, and they are not in a position to take account of things the way they should. They think they have lost something. Among all of the people, you'll always have a tiny group of fanatics who cannot restrain themselves. There were slogans scrawled in towns around Kosova showing how upset these people were after the elections -- slogans like 'Oh my nation! I will not forgive the blood I shed for your freedom.'"

Demaci suggests that ethnic Albanians may not be the only ones behind the wave of killings. "There is a 20 percent possibility that the Serbs have been doing [the killings]. But I tend to think the fault lies on the Albanian side because -- this factor is very important -- the people who suffered the least for Kosova's freedom have come to power, and the lack of accord continues" among the Albanians themselves.

Last June, on the first anniversary of the end of the NATO air strikes and the capitulation of Serbian forces, Demaci -- along with various former UCK commanders -- spoke at a mass gathering in Prishtina's sports stadium. But when Demaci called for tolerance toward Kosova's Serbs, the stadium erupted in whistles and jeers. "Do not forget the Serbian people who have decided to stay in Kosova. They are in a difficult position. It is our duty and obligation to open up prospects for them. Not even the Serbian regime is interested in their fate. Help them. They are depressed and scared and it is up to you to create safe conditions for them."

Demaci says that young people protested in the stadium because they could not understand how Albanians could live together with those who not so long ago tried to kill them, burning down their homes and destroying their property. In his words: "We will need quite a lot of time before we are able to soften our stand."

Demaci, who is 64 years old, spent 28 years in communist Yugoslav prisons between 1958 and 1990 for his human rights activities. He subsequently chaired the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms for five years. This non-governmental organization still occupies most of his time.

He says his mission in life is to set an example to Kosovar Albanians of mercy, forgiveness, and not forgetting -- since, as he phrases it, "forgetting only leads to history repeating itself." Demaci says that Albanians will not let themselves become slaves to the past: "We Albanians suffered so much from this domination, discrimination, and destruction by the Serbian authorities for 100 years. We know more than anyone what destruction means and we know that it is important to create an atmosphere in which others can live, too. There can be no freedom solely for Albanians, just as there could not be freedom just for Serbs. The Serbs tried to do that, but they lost everything. So we cannot repeat the same mistake."

Within a month after the Milosevic regime fell, Demaci traveled to Belgrade as the first Kosovar Albanian to meet openly with the Serbian public. No other Kosovar Albanian activist has done so since. "Here is the problem. I was recently in Serbia. I had some good, interesting meetings, but I have no illusions that I succeeded in convincing the Serbs there that they should lay off those old projects--which call for domination and discrimination [against the Kosovar Albanians]."

Demaci believes Serbs could greatly ease matters by promising never again to resort to hegemony, domination, discrimination, or destruction. But he says Serbs still harbor hopes that they will one day take back Kosova or somehow disarm the province.

Demaci says this is just a pipe dream. He says the Serbs should decide whether to co-exist with the Albanians or go their separate way. "There is no cooperation, no community without trust, and the Serbian regime for the past 100 years has only deformed, damaged, and squandered this trust to the point that no Albanian trusts the Serbs. [Albanians] still kill people for speaking Serbian. It is still dangerous to speak Serbian [in Kosova]. Trust has shrunk to zero."

Demaci says that he suspects new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, Serbian Prime Minister-designate Zoran Djindjic, and federal Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic all harbor strong nationalist feelings toward Kosova and cannot be trusted by Kosova's Albanian majority. "Deep down," he says, "the new leaders are all hegemonists, children of the old regime" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October 2000).

As Demaci sees it, the new leaders in Belgrade failed to stand up to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. In his view, they spent too much time fighting among themselves for power and not enough time dealing with substantive issues (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 December 2000). (Jolyon Naegele)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Until our country is stabilized and democratized to the full, legal actions could turn into a mockery of justice and mere revenge. If one wants to destabilize the situation in this country, one might behave the way Carla Del Ponte behaves." -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica to the "International Herald Tribune" of 24 January.

"Political change has happened both in Washington and in Belgrade, and I truly believe the changes are for the better. I think Washington's attitude towards Yugoslavia and the Balkans will be colored more by economics than politics. Good business and investment plans are far more beneficial than any hasty peace plans and quick solutions, which came too late in the past." -- ibid.

"I would like to see [in the U.S.] more understanding of the realities of the Balkans. For example, much has been said about a multiethnic society in Kosovo, but we are far away from that, and have many displaced Serbian people, [as well as] much terrorism and violence that has been brought from Kosovo to Serbia." -- ibid.

The Clinton administration "was paying too much attention to us, and we are facing the consequences, which should be faced by the Americans as well." -- ibid.

"We should keep an open ear to what the world is saying." -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, quoted in the "Guardian" of 24 January.