THE MISSING MEN
April 12, 1999
AS THE brutality and suffering in Kosovo worsens, another horror appears to be unfolding, with reports that thousands of young men have been separated from their families, taken away, and possibly executed.
The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said yesterday that he believed almost 400,000 people inside Kosovo were in hiding, cold and starving, in the mountains. His account was based on a telephone conversation with Hashim Thaqi, one the leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). [Cook had give Thaqi a satellite phone so that Thaqi could feed him with information to pass on to the media].
Mr Thaqi has his own agenda, which is to deepen the West’s involvement. And with 1.5 million people on the move, out of Kosovo’s population of 1.8 million, it is difficult for observers to monitor the ethnic cleansing carried out by Slobodan Milosevic’s forces. [It was established after the war that there had been no such ethnic cleansing by the Serbian forces. Kosovo Albanians did not start to leave their homes until the Nato bombing began on 24 March 1999.]
But Kosovo refugees now in Albania and Macedonia have consistently spoken of men being rounded up and taken away by Serb militiamen. [In modern wars refugees are very well aware of the power of their testimony since many politicians and journalists find it convenient to take such claims as proven without any supporting evidence.]
Mr Cook’s concern, shared by Nato, is based on the situation in the refugee camps, where aid workers have noted the fact that adult males comprise only 10 per cent of the intake. It means at least 100,000 men are missing, though the figure may be much higher. [Without full context, this figure is meaningless.]
Some of these men may have decided to stay in Kosovo to fight in the ranks of the KLA. But there is now widespread apprehension about the fate of the rest. Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, said that President Milosovic’s regime will be brought before war crimes tribunals for any crimes committed against the Kosovo Albanians. [Ministerial comments of this kind are often presented as some kind of confirmation of reported allegations. In reality, they are a non-specific reply to meet the needs of the moment when ministers are themselves without specific information.]
Nato’s fears have received some confirmation with reports of mass graves. The alliance yesterday released satellite pictures purporting to show what could be the site of a mass grave in the central town of Orahovac. [This trick was used many times by the western allies during the Balkan conflicts – the brief presentation of satellite pictures that provided no conclusive evidence and, for the most part, were never seen again.]
The alliance said last week that it believed large-scale killings by Serb authorities were taking place. Natos’s spokesman, Jamie Shea, said it was up to the International Criminal Tribunal, set up in The Hague, to investigate the matter in the future. [Nato’s record for honesty and accuracy during the Kosovo war was appalling.]
The West’s fears are based on past experience of the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. In the summer of l995, after over-running the eastern town of Srebrenica, the Bosnian Serb army separated men from their families and killed as many of them as they could. [Despite all claims, no hard evidence of massacres and genocide at Srebrenica has ever been produced. The Hague Tribunal reached its verdicts on the basis of forensic and DNA evidence that was deliberately withheld from the court, from defendants and their expert witnesses, and from the world’s forensic and DNA communities. This so-called ‘evidence’ remains secret to this day. All the ICTY had to back its many convictions was uncorroborated ‘eyewitness’ accounts.]
The ruthless operation was designed to make sure they never joined the Bosnian government army – as well as demonstrating the Serb obsession with halting the growth of the Muslim population. At the time, most governments in the West regarded the claims of Serb atrocities as propaganda. [This may have been their private view, but many were happy to join the bandwagon of those proclaiming atrocity.]
Kosovo refugees have given details of where a number of mass graves containing young men are sited. One is near Podujevo, in the north of the province, a former KLA stronghold. More than 200 men are said to have been shot there. [International forensic teams arrived in Kosovo within days of the war ending. Most spent about 2 months in the Serbian province. All left without finding any mass graves, some expressing frustration that they had been brought there under false pretences.]
Other sites are at Malakrusa, where there were reports of shootings and burnings. There are said to have been further killings at Pastasel, Velika Krusa, Suva Reka, Kosovo Polje and Malisevo.
The refugees have made other claims that mirror the grim events of the Bosnian conflict, which pitted Serbs, Muslims and Croats against each other. While the men have been taken away, Kosovo women are said to have been raped at checkpoints. Many of the victims have been too ashamed, it is said, to report what happened to aid workers. [This accusation was made routinely during the Balkan conflicts. No hard evidence was ever found to support such claims.]
There are also allegations that the Serbs have been setting up “rape camps”, where their victims have been shot and buried, after being imprisoned and abused. A Pentagon spokesman, Kenneth Bacon, spoke of “an eerie and disturbing echo of instances of rape and killing of women during the Bosnian war”. [This refers to the ridiculous claim that 50,000 Bosnian muslim women had been raped in the early months of the Bosnian war. Journalists arrived in busloads, but failed to find any victims and quietly left for home a few weeks later. The story and figures are still occasionally reported: when a media story has swept through the world, correcting it is an uphill task.]
Unlike at the time of the Bosnian war, the West is now prepared to accept the worst possible reports about the behaviour of Serb forces, even if the numbers mentioned are treated with caution. [It very much suited them to do so. As the Nato bombing was clearly illegal under international war, they badly needed some justification for their intervention.]
There is no intrinsic reason, say observers, why the Serb forces should have changed their ways. [What ways? This sentence is mindless.]
For Nato, the reports are another reminder of the problems of its current strategy. Not only are air strikes failing to stop the abuse of the civilian population, there is a major lack of knowledge about what exactly is going on in Kosovo.
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Copyright 1999 The Independent.