Ivo Skoric on Fri, 29 Jan 1999 11:53:54 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> ivogram 1/29/99: racak followup

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------

For further information, contact:
In New York: Fred Abrahams (212) 216-1270
In Brussels: Jean-Paul Marthoz (322) 732-2009
In London: Urmi Shah (44-171) 713-1995

Human Rights Watch investigation finds:

(January 29, New York) - Human Rights Watch today categorically 
rejected Yugoslav government claims that the victims of the January 15 
attack on Racak were KLA soldiers killed in combat or civilians caught 
in crossfire.  After a detailed investigation, the organization ccused 
Serbian special police forces and the Yugoslav army of 
indiscriminately attacking civilians, torturing detainees, and 
committing summary executions.  The evidence suggests that government 
forces had direct orders to kill village inhabitants over the age of 
        The killing of forty-five ethnic Albanian civilians has 
provoked an apparent shift in western policy toward Kosovo, which the 
Contact Group is meeting in London today to discuss.
        A report in the Washington Post yesterday provided excerpts 
from telephone conversations between Serbian Interior Ministry General 
Sreten Lukic and Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, who 
clearly ordered government security forces to "go in heavy" in Racak.  
The two officials later discussed ways that the killings might be 
covered up to avoid international condemnation.
        Human Rights Watch conducted separate interviews in Kosovo 
with fourteen witnesses to the attack, many of whom are hiding out of 
fear for their lives, as well as with foreign journalists and 
observers who visited Racak on January 16.  Together, the testimonies 
suggest a well planned and executed attack by government forces on 
civilians in  Racak, where the KLA had a sizable presence and had 
conducted some ambushes on police patrols.
        As has happened on numerous occasions in the Kosovo conflict, 
once the KLA retreated government forces moved in and committed 
atrocities against the residents of the village.  While it is possible 
that some residents may have defended their homes in the morning, most 
were clearly not involved in any armed resistance.  At least 
twenty-three people were summarily executed by the police while 
offering no resistance - a clear violation of the laws of war, and a 
crime punishable by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former 
Yugoslavia (ICTY).
       Villagers told consistent stories of how government forces 
rounded up, tortured, and then  apparently executed the twenty-three 
ethnic Albanians on a hill outside of the village.  Two witnesses 
interviewed by Human Rights Watch saw these men being beaten by the 
police and then taken off in the direction of the hill.  Local 
villagers, foreign journalists, and diplomatic observers who saw the 
bodies the next day said that the victims had been shot from close 
range, most of them in the head; some of them appeared to have been 
shot while running away.  Four men are known to have survived.
        Eighteen other people were killed inside Racak, including a 
twelve-year-old boy and at least two female civilians, as well as nine 
soldiers of the KLA.  At least one civilian, Nazmi Ymeri (76), was 
executed in his yard.  Witnesses claim that Banush Kamberi, whose 
headless body was found in his yard, was last seen alive in the 
custody of the police.  At least two people, Bajram Mehmeti and his 
daughter Hanumshahe (20), were killed by a grenade thrown by the 
police as they were running through the street.
        Human Rights Watch confirmed that a group of approximately 
forty policeman, in blue uniforms and without masks, shot from a 
distance of twenty meters on unarmed civilians who were running 
through their yards. They killed Riza Beqa (44), Zejnel Beqa (22), and 
Halim Beqa (12), and wounded two women, Zyhra Beqa (42) and her 
daughter Fetije (18). It is believed that local policemen from the 
nearby Stimlje police station participated in this action.
      The attack on civilians in Racak is one in a long series of war 
crimes committed by the Yugoslav Army and Serbian police during the 
Kosovo conflict.  Since February 1998, government troops have 
systematically destroyed civilian property, attacked civilians, and 
committed summary executions, all of which are grave breaches of the 
laws of war.  The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) has also committed some 
serious abuses, such as the taking of civilian hostages and summary 
executions (documented in the Human Rights Watch report "Humanitarian 
Law Violations in Kosovo" available, along with other Kosovo reports, 
on the web site www.hrw.org).  The KLA in the Shtimle and Suva Reka 
area was particularly known for a high number of kidnappings of ethnic 
        Human Rights Watch called on the Yugoslav government to allow 
an unhindered investigation by international forensics experts and the 
war crimes tribunal to determine the precise nature of events.  
Government authorities, directly implicated in the crime, cannot be 
trusted to conduct an impartial investigation.
        The organization also called on the international community to 
take resolute action against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and 
his government for brazenly violating international humanitarian law.  
International inaction in the face of past atrocities, the 
organization said, gave President Milosevic the rightful impression 
that he could continue his abusive campaign with impunity.
        Finally, Human Rights Watch called on the Contact Group to 
insist that the Chief Prosecutor of the International War Crimes 
Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Louise Arbour, be granted access 
to Racak and other sites of atrocities in Kosovo.



        The village of Racak, about half a kilometer from the town of 
Stimlje, had a pre-conflict population of  approximately 2,000 people. 
During the large-scale government offensive in August 1998, the 
Serbian police shelled Racak, and several family compounds were looted 
and burned. Since then, most of the population has lived in Stimlje or 
nearby Urosevac. On the day before the January 15 attack, less then 
four hundred people were in the village.  The KLA was also in Racak, 
with a base near the power plant.  A number of ethnic Serbs were 
kidnapped in the Stimlje region, mostly during the summer.
        The January 15 attack might have been provoked by a 
well-prepared KLA ambush near Dulje (west of Stimlje) on January  8, 
in which three Serbian policeman were killed and one was wounded.  On 
January 10, the KLA ambushed another police patrol in Slivovo (south 
of Stimlje), killing one policeman.  A Yugoslav Army buildup in the 
area around Stimlje ensued over the next four days, especially on the 
mountain road between Dulje and Caraljevo villages.

The Police Action in Racak

        Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they heard automatic 
weapons fire beginning around 6:30 a.m. on January 15, when the police 
reportedly exchanged fire with the KLA from a hill called Cesta. Half 
an hour later, army tanks and armored cars came as backup and shelled 
the forest near the neighboring village of Petrovo, where some KLA 
units were positioned. They also fired at some family compounds in 
Racak.  Some families managed to escape Racak, fleeing towards 
Petrovo, which was also affected along with the villages of Malopoljce 
and Belinca.
        Around 7:00 a.m., Racak was surrounded by the Serbian police. 
Several witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they saw seven blue 
armored vehicles on Cesta hill, as well as three VJ tanks (type T-55). 
The police were shooting and some heavy artillery was fired directly 
into some houses near Malopoljce and Petrovo from a position in the 
nearby forest called, in Albanian, Pishat.
        The extent of the fighting in Racak that morning remains 
somewhat unclear.  According to one Serbian policeman, the KLA's 
resistance around Racak lasted almost four hours, and when they were 
finally able to enter the village the police confiscated three mounted 
machine guns.  Villagers, however, said that the police had entered 
the village by 9:00 a.m.  They said that there was shooting and some 
artillery until 4:00 p.m.  By 4:30 p.m., the police had left the 

Deliberate Killings of the Beqa Family Members
        Ten households of the Beqa family live in the part of Racak 
called Upper Mahalla on the edge of the village.   According  to one 
member of the family, whose son and husband were both killed, at 
around 7:00 a.m. thirty members of the Beqa family tried to run toward 
the nearby forest when they heard the police.  She told Human Rights 
Watch that more then forty policemen wearing blue uniforms and without 
masks began shooting at them from a distance of twenty meters from the 
top of the hill.  She said:

        My son H.B. was running on my left side, maybe two meters from 
me. He had his trousers in his hands, we did not have time to dress 
properly. He was warning me to move aside and suddenly he fell down. 
The bullet hit him in the neck. In front of me my husband fell as 
well.  He didn't move any more.

        Another person in the same group, aged seventy, told Human 
Rights Watch how he saw his twenty-two-year-old grandson shot dead, 
while his eighteen-year-old granddaughter and her mother  were both 
        The other members of the Beqa family ran back to a house and 
hid under the steps until nightfall.  Nobody dared to help the 
wounded, who spent two hours crawling for shelter from the police. One 
young women said that the police stayed on the hill singing songs and 
calling her relative by name in the Albanian language ("Aziz, come 
here to see your dead relatives!"), which suggests that local 
policemen from Stimlje who were familiar with the residents of Racak 
may have participated in the attack.

Killed by Grenade
        According to M.B., who was hiding in his home, Bajram Mehmeti 
and his daughter Hanumshahe were killed by a grenade early in the 
morning of January 15 as they were running through the center of the 
village.  He said:

        My cousins were lying twenty meters from the water well. He 
was hit in the head and she was hit in the chest. One man pulled her 
in the house and she died in his hands.

Searching for Weapons and the Killing of Nazmi Ymeri (76)
        According to eleven different witnesses interviewed 
separately, groups of about thirty policemen each were entering Racak 
from different directions beginning around 7:00 a.m.  By 9:00 a.m., 
most of them had gathered in the village center near the mosque.  
These policemen also wore blue uniforms but they had masks on their 
faces with slits for their eyes and mouth, and they wore helmets. Some 
of them had "rocket propelled grenades" strapped to their backs.  
These police searched house by house, witnesses said, looking for 
people and weapons. Most of the hidden civilians, upon seeing the 
police in the village center, ran in the opposite direction towards 
another part of the village. 
        One witness, S.A. (46), was hiding with his wife and the five 
children of his neighbor  between the house and stable of Hyrzi 
Bilalli.  From this spot, he said he overheard a discussion held by a 
group of policemen. He told Human Rights Watch:

        I heard clearly when one said, "Release everybody under the 
age of fifteen.  You know what to do with the others."  I heard when 
another one gave the order to pick up the bodies from the yards in 
plastic bags and put them in the cars. They took away the body of 
Ahmet's wife who was shot on the street while she was trying to run 
from one house to another. I later saw the place where her body was.  
It was just a pool of blood.

        The same witness said that the same group of policeman went 
into the next door house of the elderly Nazmi Imeri, who lived alone, 
and was later found dead.  He said:

        I heard shooting and a scream. In the evening I went in his 
[Imeri's] yard and took his body to our yard. The top of the head was 
blown off.

Torture in the Yard of Sadik Osmani
        As the police were in the Racak, many villager made their way, 
running and hiding, to the large house of Sadik Osmani near the place 
called, in Albanian, Kodra e Bebushit. One boy who was present, aged 
twelve, told Human Rights Watch that approximately thirty men and four 
boys, himself included, decided to hide in Osmani's stable.  A group 
of approximately twenty women and children hid in the cellar of 
Osmani's three-storey house.  The police later detained, beat, and 
executed the men in the stable (see below), but the women and children 
in the cellar were left unharmed.
        According to the boy, the police entered Osmani's yard 
sometime before noon.   One tall policeman wearing a black mask and a 
helmet with a blue police uniform kicked in the door and immediately 
began to shoot over the heads of the thirty men lying on the ground, 
who were screaming "Don't shoot!  We are civilians!"
        All of the men were taken outside into the yard, where they 
were forced to lie on the ground and searched for weapons. The four 
boys were taken out of this group, including the twelve-year-old who 
spoke with Human Rights Watch, and were locked up together with the 
women and other children in Osmani's cellar.  The police also took 
four men from the cellar - Sadik Osmani, Burim Osmani, Rama Shabani, 
and Mufail Hajrizi - and put them with the other men in the yard.  
Burim Osmani, who is a teenager around fifteen years old, was later 
put back into the cellar, apparently because he was too young.  The 
conscious decision to return him, while later executing the others, 
suggests that the police had a clear order to kill the adult males of 
the village.
        Before the twelve-year-old boy was sent to the cellar, 
however, he saw how the police beat the men in the yard, including his 
father and some other relatives.  The boy told Human Rights Watch:

        Two or three policeman beat them with wooden sticks.  One was 
kicking them in the face with his boots. The others were just 
watching. It was terrible.  The men were screaming, and their heads 
were covered with  blood.  A policeman locked me in the cellar with 
the women, but I could hear screaming for the next half an hour.

        This version of events was corroborated by three other women 
locked in the cellar who spoke with Human Rights Watch in two separate 
interviews, although they could not see the men in the yard.  All of 
them believed that the police had only arrested their male relatives 
and taken them away to the police station in Stimlje. It was only the 
next day when they realized that the twenty-three men had been killed.

Extrajudicial Executions
        Some time around 1:00 p.m. the police led the twenty-three men 
out of Osmani's yard.  One witness, S. A., was hidden at that time 
behind a compound wall fifty meters from the Osmani house.  He told 
Human Rights Watch that he heard the police leading the detained men 
through the Racak streets.  He said:

        I heard the police ask them [the men] where is the 
headquarters of our army [the KLA], and they answered where it was. 
Then they went together toward the power station in the direction of 
our army. I think it was maybe 3:00 p.m. when I heard shooting, but I 
did not know that they were killed.

        Members of the OSCE's Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) 
entered Racak late in the afternoon of January 15, after having been 
prevented from entering the area during the day by VJ and police 
forces.  The KVM took five wounded persons, including a woman and a 
boy suffering from gunshot wounds, and left. During the night, the 
remaining men of the village searched for the wounded, still thinking 
that the twenty-three men were in the Stimlje police station.  One 
person who participated in the search told Human Rights Watch that 
they found the bodies on the hill called Kodri e Bebushit, in 
Albanian, around 4:00 a.m..  He said:

        I saw Mufail Hajrizi.  He was slashed on the chest.  Then we 
found Haqif, the guest from Petrovo.  His body was lying on his side 
with the hands as if he wanted to defend himself.  His throat and half 
his face had been cut by a knife. On the top of his head was a wooden 
stick with some paper.  Something was written on that paper but I 
can't remember what it was.  There were more than twenty bodies, 
almost all of them were my relatives. We wanted to cover the bodies 
with blankets, or something else, but one man said not to touch 
anything before KVM comes tomorrow.  

        One woman, L.S., told Human Rights Watch that her son and 
husband had survived the execution.  She told Human Rights Watch: 

        In the morning I got information that the men from the stable 
were found dead. But soon I saw my husband and son coming toward me - 
like they were standing up from the grave.  My son told me that the 
group of policeman had pushed them with their hands behind their heads 
to go towards the hill.  My son was in front with Sadik, and the 
others were behind. When he came to the top of the hill, he saw 
another group of policeman waiting for them with rifles. He turned his 
head and shouted to the others to run away. He ran toward the village 
of Rance, and didn't turn his head. One bullet crossed through his 
pocket, and another one is still in his belt.

        Precisely how the twenty-three men were killed by the police 
on the hill outside of Racak remains somewhat unclear.  But witness 
testimony, as provided here, and the physical evidence found at the 
site by journalists and KVM monitors, makes it clear that most of 
these men were fired upon from close range as they offered no 
resistance.  Some of them were apparently shot while trying to run 
        Journalists at the scene early on January 16 told Human Rights 
Watch that many of these twenty-three men also had signs of torture, 
such as missing finger nails.  Their clothes were bloody, with slashes 
and holes at the same spots as their bullet entry and exits wounds, 
which argues against government claims that the victims were KLA 
soldiers who were dressed in civilian clothes after they had been 
killed.  All of them were wearing rubber boots typical of Kosovo 
farmers rather than military footwear.
        It is possible that some of these men were defending their 
village in the morning and then went to the Osmani house once they saw 
the police entering the village.  However, they clearly did not resist 
the police at the time of their capture or execution.  They were 
tortured and arbitrarily killed - crimes that can never be justified 
in times of war or peace.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From: "Ivo Skoric" <ivo@reporters.net>
Date: Thu, 28 Jan 1999 23:58:43 +0000
Subject: Walker walks

Irony at Racak: Tainted U.S. Diplomat Condemns Massacre

  By Don North

  One grieving villager uncovered the headless corpse
  of his 65-year-old brother. "Jesus Christ," exclaimed
  a distressed U.S. diplomat as he picked his way past
  blood-soaked massacre victims in Racak, a tiny
  village 18 miles southwest of Kosovo's capital of

  "At least let's give him the dignity of covering him up," said the
  diplomat, U.S. Ambassador William Walker. Beyond shock, the
  bespectacled diplomat, with thinning red hair and a wispy moustache,
  barely could contain his fury.

  "I see bodies like this with their faces blown away at close range in
  execution fashion and it's obvious people with no value for human life
  have done this," Walker told journalists. "Unfortunately, I do not have
  the words to describe my personal revulsion at the site of what can
  only be described as an unspeakable atrocity."

  Walker demanded that the Serb government supply the names of
  police officers and soldiers involved in the operation. He wanted the
  killers tracked down and delivered to the international war crimes
  tribunal at the Hague.

  "From what I personally saw, I do not hesitate to describe the crime
  as a massacre, a crime against humanity," he said. "Nor do I hesitate
  to accuse the government security forces of responsibility."

  Yet, as genuine as Walker's outrage appeared to be, there was a dark
  irony about his personal role in demanding that Serb authorities be
  held accountable for civilian massacres. During the 1980s, Walker was
  a key figure working with U.S.-backed military operations in three
  countries of Central America: Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

  In all three violence-torn nations, U.S.-backed forces committed
  well-documented atrocities against unarmed civilians and enemy
  captives. Yet, the Reagan administration routinely ignored, disputed or
  minimized those slaughters. 

  Though tens of thousands of civilians died in the three countries at the
  hands of allied forces, no war crimes tribunal was convened or even
  seriously contemplated. No one was judged guilty of crimes against
  humanity: not the perpetrators, not their superior officers and not their
  political allies in Washington. Only a few -- mostly low-level soldiers
  -- were punished at all.

  To make matters worse, President Reagan and his subordinates often
  tried to discredit journalists and human rights investigators who
  uncovered evidence of war crimes.

  I had a personal taste of how this worked when I was on a reporting
  assignment for Newsweek magazine in El Salvador in 1983. I had been
  traveling with a patrol of leftist guerrillas who were engaged in
  hit-and-run fighting against the Salvadoran army near the Guazapa

  The guerrilla unit was in retreat, followed by peasants who feared
  retaliation from the Salvadoran army that was known for butchering
  guerrilla sympathizers. As we made our way through the mountainous
  terrain, the army caught up with some civilian stragglers who had
  lagged behind, slowed by the presence of children.

  From a distance of about two miles, I watched through binoculars.
  Soldiers of the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion used guns and machetes
  to execute two dozen men, women and children near the village of
  Tenango. A guerrilla who was closer to the scene radioed a detailed
  account of the massacre as it was underway.

  About two weeks later, after the government offensive ended, the
  guerrillas made their way back to the village and heard reports that the
  army had killed a total of 68 civilians. As I later wrote in Newsweek:
  "Outside Tenango, the signs of the slaughter were everywhere:
  charred and scattered bits of clothing, shoes and schoolbooks. ...
  When I saw the bodies of the victims, vultures had already picked
  their skeletons clean and village dogs had begun to carry away the

  The Reagan administration reacted to the Tenango reports as it had
  toward many other accounts of war crimes in El Salvador: deny and

  Several years later, an American journalist read a U.S. embassy cable
  about my report. He summarized the cable as stating: "The alleged
  Tenango massacre described in Newsweek never happened. It is a
  fabrication. Reporter Don North is lying."

  By 1983, deny-and-denounce had become the administration's
  habitual retort to nearly all reports about the Salvadoran government's
  "dirty war." To President Reagan, Central America was the front line
  of the Cold War and extreme actions were justified.

  The pattern started just days after Reagan's election with comments
  by U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and Secretary of State Al Haig
  suggesting that the rape-murder of four American churchwomen in El
  Salvador could be blamed on the women for their supposedly leftist
  political views and actions.

  Perhaps, the best documented cover-up was the case of El Mozote, a
  village in northeastern El Salvador where the U.S.-trained Atlacatl
  Battalion rounded up and executed about 800 men, women and
  children in December 1981.

  When the massacre was reported in the U.S. press, senior State
  Department officials, Thomas Enders and Elliott Abrams, went to
  Capitol Hill and ridiculed the massacre reports. Those denials were
  disproved a decade later when a United Nations forensic team dug up
  hundreds of skeletons in El Mozote.

  During the 1980s, William Walker was regarded as a professional
  foreign service officer who saw his job as carrying out administration
  policy regardless of personal qualms. Friends and associates said
  Walker tried quietly to moderate Reagan's support for right-wing
  elements, but he did not challenge those policies directly nor was he
  willing to put his career at serious risk.

  Throughout the decade, this loyal diplomat often found himself at the
  front lines of Reagan's most controversial strategies. In the early
  1980s, Walker was assigned as the deputy chief of mission in
  Honduras, another country pulled into the region's political violence.
  The CIA was then collaborating with Argentine military advisors to
  build the Nicaraguan contra army into a force for attacking leftist-ruled
  Nicaragua from bases in Honduras.

  The contras and the Argentines also were assisting hard-line elements
  of the Honduran army in forming death squads that "disappeared"
  about 200 politically suspect students and labor leaders. In a 1994
  report, a Honduran truth commission corroborated those cases of
  political murders and blamed military officers who were participating
  in the CIA's covert war.

  By 1985, Walker had advanced to the post of deputy assistant
  secretary of state for Central America, making him one of Elliott
  Abrams's top deputies. In that role, Walker continued aiding the
  contras as they expanded their unsavory reputation for brutality and

  Walker popped up on the periphery of the Iran-contra scandal, but his
  diplomatic career kept advancing. In 1988, Walker became
  ambassador to El Salvador, where the army's brutality had grown
  more selective but had by no means ended.

  On Nov. 16, 1989, uniformed soldiers from the notorious Atlacatl
  Battalion dragged six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her
  15-year-old daughter from their beds. The soldiers forced the victims
  to the ground and then executed them with high-powered rifles at
  close range, literally blowing their brains out.

  The evidence pointed to the Salvadoran army and implicated the high
  command. But Walker defended Col. Rene Emilio Ponce, the
  Salvadoran army chief of staff, a U.S. favorite. "Management control
  problems exist in a situation like this," Walker said at a news

  On the wider repression of Salvadoran dissidents, Walker stated that
  "I'm not condoning it, but in times like these of great emotion and
  great anger, things like this happen." [AP, Dec. 5, 1989] Observing
  Walker's mushy reaction to war crimes, a New York Times editorial
  chastised the ambassador for making only "a bureaucratic peep."
  [Dec. 25, 1989]

  As criticism of the Jesuit murders mounted, Walker went to
  Washington to poke holes in the case against the army. "Anyone can
  get uniforms," Walker told Rep. Joseph Moakley, D-Mass., on Jan. 2,
  1990. "The fact that they [the killers] were dressed in military
  uniforms was not proof that they were military." [WP, March 21,

  Walker was even more protective in internal cables to the State
  Department. He warned Secretary of State James A. Baker III that
  the United States should "not jeopardize" the progress in El Salvador
  "by what we do to solve past deaths, however heinous."

  In a "secret" cable, Walker added that "I have reached the conclusion
  that the [U.S.] Embassy [in El Salvador] must cease the pursuit of
  unilateral overt information-gathering or face continued no-win
  decisions and criticism. I recommend that the Embassy be so
  instructed and that all further investigative effort be left to the GOES
  [government of El Salvador]." [Declassified State Department cables
  as compiled by the National Catholic Reporter, Sept. 23, 1994]

  After the Salvadoran civil war ended, a United Nations report
  concluded that the Salvadoran army was guilty of widespread human
  rights violations. Declassified U.S. government records also confirmed
  that the Reagan administration knew of the army's responsibility for
  many of the war's worst atrocities, but hid the information from
  Congress and the public. [For more details, see NYT, March 21,

  In staking out a more pro-human rights position in Kosovo, Walker
  has referred both publicly and privately to his diplomatic performance
  in Central America. Referring to the cover-up of the Jesuit murders,
  Walker said he "would hate like hell to be accused of that again."
  [WP, Jan. 23, 1999]

  A State Department associate said Walker regretted his failure to
  condemn atrocities in Central America in the 1980s and hoped to
  make up for those mistakes in Kosovo. The associate noted that
  Walker was in mid-career at the time of the Central American wars
  and feared for his future.

  Now in his early 60's, near the end of his career, Walker feels freer to
  condemn wrongdoing, even if his statements conflict with a U.S.
  policy that has been ambivalent about the best course in Kosovo, said
  the associate who spoke on condition of anonymity.

  Currently, Walker is head of a 700-member observer team of the
  Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Their job is to
  monitor a truce reached last fall between the Serb-dominated
  government of Yugoslavia and ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo,
  a southwestern Yugoslav province.

  Last spring and summer, the Serbs mounted a military offensive
  against the Albanian guerrillas known as the Kosovo Liberation Army,
  or KLA. The Serbs shocked the world with a scorched-earth
  campaign that killed scores of civilians and destroyed whole villages.
  [For details, see iF Magazine, Nov.-Dec. 1998]

  Under NATO pressure, the Serb campaign was halted last October.
  But NATO has been uncomfortable acting as the protector of the
  KLA, which some diplomats consider a terrorist organization. The
  KLA also has violated the truce and balked at serious peace

  During the new crisis, NATO has threatened air strikes against the
  Serbs as retaliation for Racak. But Western diplomats don't want
  NATO, effectively, to serve as an air force for the KLA. 

  "The KLA ignore the cease-fire," one American diplomat complained
  in a recent Reuters dispatch. "They are rude, sneering and
  uncooperative. And they can be shockingly brutal, not just against
  Serbs, but against their own people."

  Instead of hibernating for the winter -- as NATO had hoped -- the
  KLA quickly re-supplied, re-armed and renewed their struggle to gain
  control of strategic areas of Kosovo.

  "I don't know who the hell they think they are," a Western diplomat
  told Reuters. "For guys who haven't done anything on the battlefield
  but embarrass themselves, they are incredibly arrogant."

  Despite Western ambivalence about the KLA, Walker was not willing
  to play politics with the dead of Racak. His denunciation of the
  massacre sharpened the diplomatic dispute between NATO and
  Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

  After the blunt words, the Serbs declared Walker persona non grata
  and demanded his departure. "You're acting as a prosecutor and a
  judge at the same time," complained Serb Prime Minister Milan
  Milutinovic in televised comments about Walker.

  Like other Serb leaders, Milutinovic insisted that the Racak victims
  were not civilians but Albanian guerrillas killed in combat, an assertion
  that echoed a frequent claim made by the Reagan administration in
  defense of allied-sponsored massacres in Central America during the

  Walker refused to budge from his post. Then, faced with a possible
  NATO air strike, the Serbs backed down. But the Serbs continued to
  abuse the Muslim Albanians in Racak.

  Defying a Muslim tradition that requires prompt burial of the dead,
  Serb police assaulted Racak again as the grieving village was preparing
  to bury the victims. The Serbs advanced behind a shield of mortar and
  machine-gun fire.

  Terrified villagers, journalists and OSCE observers retreated. The
  police barged into the mosque where 40 shrouded bodies were lying in
  a row. The police carried the bodies to trucks and transported them
  back to Pristina for autopsies.

  Skeptics suspect that the Serbs will use the autopsy findings to support
  a charge that the victims died in battle and that the Albanian guerrillas
  mutilated the corpses to discredit the Serbs. The OSCE observer
  group, however, has already concluded that Serb police were
  responsible for the atrocity.

  Some foreign observers who have studied the blood feuds of the
  Balkans see the Serb brutality at Racak as another chapter in the ugly
  nationalistic conflicts that have roiled the region for centuries. There is
  even a word in the Serb language that captures the senselessness of
  the violence. The word is "inat," meaning "irrational, spiteful defiance,
  regardless of the consequences."

  Still, many Serbs are in denial about their government's responsibility
  for many atrocities in recent years, including the 1996 massacre of
  7,000 Muslims after the fall of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia.

  The Serb media often presents strained explanations for brutal actions
  that have been blamed on the Serb military. When Serb police bullets
  killed a three-month-old baby in Kosovo last fall, Serb TV insisted
  that the story was a hoax, a rubber doll planted by Albanians.

  Though the propaganda arguments fall on deaf ears of foreign
  journalists, the rationalizations have proved effective with the Serb
  population. The Independent Media Center in Belgrade has estimated
  that up to 95 percent of Serbs accept state propaganda.

  Serb leaders have enjoyed success, too, denouncing independent
  journalists who challenge the government's line. The Milosevic
  government also accuses domestic opponents of treason when they
  criticize Serb military actions.

  In another bitter irony, Walker and his colleagues in the Reagan
  administration employed similar tactics when denying evidence of war
  crimes in Central America. First, they would challenge the charges or
  rationalize the actions. Then, they would denounce American
  journalists and dispute the patriotism of critics.

  Yet, some acts of war are so universally brutal that they stain the
  guilty even as the perpetrators seek to conceal the crimes. Racak has
  become the latest watchword for Serb brutality - just as El Mozote
  and the many killing fields in Central America were testaments to what
  New York Times reporter Raymond Bonner called the "weakness and
  deceit" of U.S. policy in the 1980s.

  In loudly denouncing the brutality at Racak, Walker may be
  demonstrating regret for his mute support of the political slaughters in
  Central America. But I am reminded of the moral dilemma that Peter
  Marin described in Coming to Terms with Vietnam.

  "All men like all nations are tested twice in the moral realm; first by
  what they do, then by what they make of what they do. A condition
  of guilt denotes a kind of second chance. Men are, as if by a kind of
  grace, given a chance to repay the living what it is they find
  themselves owing the dead."
#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo@desk.nl and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  URL: http://www.desk.nl/~nettime/  contact: nettime-owner@desk.nl