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Special Reports

Račak: anatomy of a massacre

Crescent International

The killings in Račak took place on January 15. Serbian troops and police attacked the town with armoured vehicles and infantry shortly before dawn. They left at sundown, leaving 45 dead bodies. Other villagers either escaped into nearby woods or were arrested.

International observers and press came to the village the next day. Seventeen bodies were found heaped on a hill above the village. These appeared to have been executed with shots to the back of the head. Others were found in a nearby gully, mainly teenagers and old men. Several of these were shot between the eyes from close range. Some had had their eyes gouged out, a traditional Serbian atrocity.

Three more bodies, of younger men, apparently brothers, were found on a path leading out of the village. They had been shot in the back. Other bodies were found in houses, including women and children. There were no signs of fighting, or that the villagers had been able to put up resistance. William Walker, the head of the OCSE monitoring mission was immediately explicit in his judgement: “as a laymen, it looks to me like executions”.

Press at the scene spoke to survivors. Their accounts were clear. The troops invaded the village, moving from house to house. Some people were killed in their homes, some managed to escape the village, and some were arrested. Some of the captured men were separated from the rest and taken away, supposedly to a police station. These were the men whose bodies were found on the hill. Although the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) were in the village, they were not able to resist the attack and none of their members were among the dead found on the hillside.

Those survivors who dared to return to Račak collected most of the bodies and lay them in the mosque, where they were photographed. All were in civilian clothes and many were identified by relatives.

Two days after the initial attack, after the observers and journalists had reported their findings, Serbian troops returned to the village. They shelled it once more on the pretext of flushing out KLA troops, and then occupied it. The bodies were removed from the mosque and taken to Belgrade, supposedly for ‘independent’ autopsy supervised by a Serbian judge appointed to investigate the massacre. The Serbs said that Finnish and Belorussian observers would guarantee the independence of the procedure. The next day, however, after seeing just five bodies and before the arrival of foreign observers, the chief pathologist gave a preliminary report saying that there was no sign of a massacre or of executions.

The French press, meanwhile, accepted the Serbian version of events, and further alleged that the evidence of massacres had been fabricated by KLA troops. The bodies, it said, were of KLA troops who had had their uniforms swapped for civilian clothes after death. The evidence of executions and mutilations of the corpses were faked, they said. These reports were widely quoted by the Serbs but dismissed by observers and pressmen who had been the first arrivals in Račak after the massacre. However, they were used by European politicians to suggest that the matter was not clear cut.

On January 25, the OCSE confirmed its opinion that the Serbs had committed a massacre of civilians in Račak. However, the waters had been sufficiently muddied by Serbian tactics and some Europeans’ determination not to ‘take sides’ that the opportunity for immediate and effective action against the Serbs had passed.

Meanwhile, the bodies of the Muslims killed in Račak on Ramadan 27, 1419 (January 15), a Friday, remain in Serbian hands with no prospect of a decent burial.

Muslimedia: Feb.1-15, 1999

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 23

Shawwal 14, 14191999-02-01

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