Children struck dumb after seeing massacre – International News, 6 October 1998

This article is a good example of the ‘hearsay journalism’ that was prevalent during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s and remains a popular form of conflict coverage to this day.  

In 1998 Kosovo was invaded from Albania by a KLA army that had been armed and trained in Albania by the US, UK, Germany and France.  The aim was to take control of the entire Serbian province of Kosovo.  Initially, the KLA had great success, securing some 60% of the province.  Then the Serbian forces regrouped and launched a powerful counter-offensive, regaining much of the lost land.  At this point the international community intervened to impose a cease-fire.  Anti-Serb propaganda was intensified.

It is claimed in the opening paragraph of the article below that ‘fresh evidence of massacres uncovered almost daily’ – but, as we learn as we read on, this ‘evidence’ consists in reality of accounts given to the reporter by those who have promoted the story, provided access to the location, supplied translators and set constraints on who could and could not be interviewed.  

The great danger of all uncorroborated testimony, no matter how compelling, is that there is no means of confirming it.  It cannot, therefore be seen as real evidence of anything.

The Balkan conflicts are notorious for the huge amounts of propaganda that were reported as established fact – just one example is the claim made by Bosnian Muslim Prime Minister Haris Siladzic that 70,000 Muslims had been executed by the Serbs at Bihac.  The figure (the same number as were killed by the Hiroshima atom bomb on the day that it was dropped) was obviously unbelievable.  It was also completely untrue – Bihac had not even fallen to the Serbs, let alone been the scene of a great massacre.


Children struck dumb after seeing massacre
By Julius Strauss in Trdevac, central Kosovo

International News

6 October 1998

As the killing in Kosovo continues and fresh evidence of massacres is uncovered almost daily, a whole generation of traumatised children is growing up whose earliest recollections will be the murder of their parents, the burning of their villages or bitterly cold nights spent in the open as refugees.

Many are still too small to speak, others rendered mute by ordeals too terrible for their young minds to comprehend. They are the silent victims of Kosovo’s atrocities. Some are alone, their parents slaughtered by police and army forces that have rampaged through their towns, killing and burning. They have often been spared death because of their age, but condemned to a life tormented by their memories.

If they are lucky, they may be found by surviving relatives and taken in. But that was not the case with one boy who staggered out of the forest in Prekaz in northern Kosovo last Friday. His blond hair was matted with dirt. He was so heavily traumatised and fatigued he could not stand or speak.

Even though he appeared to be five or six, he did not know how to say his name, and when villagers gave him a pear and a few walnuts he ravenously chewed them. His feet were bare and his trousers stained where he had repeatedly urinated in them. One of the few villagers left said: “We don’t know who he is or where he is from. Nor what we should do with him now. Our families have all fled into the cities.”

We tried to find help for the boy in nearby Kosovska Mitrovica, but local charities said they were overworked and the Red Cross had stopped making trips into the field after one of their officials was killed by a mine last week.

For three other small children of the Deliu family, Besnik, five, Liridona, three, and Arlinda, 13 months, living in a battered village in central Kosovo the ordeal may be even worse.

Their grandparents fear that they have witnessed the worst single atrocity of the Kosovo conflict, which included the brutal murder of their mother and several relatives. The massacre, in which at least 16 members of the same family were killed, was carried out by advancing Serbian forces 10 days ago in the Drenica area.

The children’s pregnant mother was smashed on the head until she died and her unborn baby was stabbed with a knife. Only a six-week-old baby cousin, smeared with the blood of her mother, survived and there were no known witnesses. Until the children began to talk.

Now it appears that the three siblings were also at the site and may have escaped the killers by running into the woods. Their grandparents say that two days after the killing a Serbian policeman, who apparently found them, knocked at the door of an elderly neighbour and handed them over.

The children are too shocked to talk of their experience and relatives are reluctant to question them. Hava Haziraj, Besnik’s grandmother, said: “He surely knows what happened. Every time we asked him anything, he began to cry.” Their uncle, Ymer Deliu, who lost his wife, two children and his mother in the massacre, said: “The children are in a bad way and we want the healing process to take its course. Now, they cannot be questioned.”

But they think that Besnik, at least, must have been present when the killers struck. He put on a brave face for the visitors in his yard. But privately he has described how he saw Ali, an uncle who was found dead at the scene of the massacre, hit on the head by a policeman.

Ymer, another uncle, who along with the grandparents cares for the children, said: “He used the expression ‘a black man’ which we in Kosovo use to describe the police. But he did not say anything else.”

* Two more bodies were found in Obrinje in central Kosovo yesterday, the apparent victims of Serbian forces who massacred villagers 10 days ago. The decomposed corpses were those of two teenage girls.