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Elderly Serb civilian beaten by KLA soldiers

18 Jun 1999 - Kosovo Human Rights Flash #47


(New York, June 18, 1999) A seventy-one-year-old Serb civilian who was interviewed by a Human Rights Watch researcher the evening before he fled Kosovo for Serbia has described how soldiers of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) tied him up, held him hostage for six hours, and brutally beat him. The elderly man had two black eyes, as well as large bruises on his body. His brother-in-law, an eyewitness to the incident, corroborated his account of abuse at the hands of the KLA. This case is consistent with a growing number of credible reports of KLA mistreatment of ethnic Serbs and other non-Albanians received during the past week by Human Rights Watch researchers based in Kosovo.

The elderly man, S.B., described how he had been staying with his brother-in-law while they prepared to leave Prizren, the southern Kosovar city where they had lived all their lives. He and his entire family were ready to leave the city on Monday, June 14, but he decided to return to his home one last time before departing in order to pick up his medicine and identification papers.

S.B. told Human Rights Watch that he reached his home at about 1 p.m. and that: [The KLA soldiers] grabbed me, brought me down to the cellar and took turns hurting me. There were several of them, all in uniform. One had a black uniform, the official uniform of the KLA; the others were in green camouflage. They all had the KLA patch. They wanted weapons from me. While they were beating me they insulted me, called me "Chetnik," and told me to leave forever.

S.B.'s brother-in-law, who had been waiting at home for him, became worried when S.B. didn't return. At about 1:30 p.m., he went over to S.B.'s house. He told Human Rights Watch that he too was detained by KLA soldiers:

They took me down to the cellar with my brother-in-law. Two of them told me that I should think about where the guns were. They said that if I didn't have any guns, I should go find some, that they're cheap.

The KLA soldiers did not physically abuse the brother-in-law, who described to them how he had assisted some Kosovar Albanians who had fled the province during the recent conflict by protecting their shop.

The soldiers did, however, detain the brother-in-law for nearly two hours and beat S.B. in front of him. According to S.B., he was beaten most severely while his brother-in-law was watching. KLA soldiers reportedly kicked S.B. and hit him with the butts of their weapons. His brother-in-law described:

They took the old man's pants off and threatened him with a gun. They told him that they'd rip his eyes out of their sockets. Then they took the blunt end of a knife and gave him these two black eyes. They asked him: "Whose country is this?" When my brother-in-law answered that it's for everyone, they weren't satisfied. They said it belongs to the KLA, and they forced him to say this.

The soldiers held S.B. hostage, while they allowed his brother-in-law to leave the house to go find them a weapon. They secured S.B.'s hands behind his back with a belt and placed him face up on a table. After a while, they removed him from the table and let him sit in a chair, giving him some water to drink.

S.B. stated that while he was sitting in the chair a young ethnic Serb man was brought into the cellar by KLA soldiers, his hands tied behind his back with an electric cord. According to S.B., the young man was beaten even more severely than he had been. KLA soldiers demanded that he too give them weapons.

Meanwhile, S.B.'s brother-in-law had obtained a handcrafted pistol from an officer of the Yugoslav military. Afraid to return to S.B.'s house, the brother-in-law had his wife deliver the pistol to the KLA soldiers, who then released S.B. at about 7 p.m.

Human Rights Watch interviewed S.B. and his brother-in-law that same evening, roughly two hours after S.B.'s ordeal had ended. S.B., his family, and some 100 other Serb civilians had taken refuge on the grounds of a theological seminary in the center of Prizren. Everyone in the group feared that the KLA might take violent action against them and were desperate to leave the city as soon as possible. Early the next morning, they all left for Serbia.

According to the BBC, as of Wednesday, June 16, an estimated 32,000 Serb civilians had already fled from Kosovo. Human Rights Watch is gravely concerned about the security of those ethnic Serbs who remain in Kosovo, as well as other ethnic groups such as Roma who may be particularly vulnerable to KLA attacks, and urges the NATO forces present in Kosovo to take steps to ensure their safety.

For further information contact:

Holly Cartner (New York): 1-212-216-1277 Jean-Paul Marthoz (Brussels): 322-736-7838

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