Kosovo Massacre Memories Torment Survivors, 20 Years On

Kosovo Massacre Memories Torment Survivors, 20 Years On
BalkanInsight_logoTwo decades after Serbian forces killed 106 Kosovo Albanians in the village of Pastasel/Pusto Selo, two men who survived remember how the executions began, how their relatives were massacred, and how they managed to get away.

“When the line of women and children departed toward Gjakova/Djakovica, they started punching us. One person, Isuf Nushi, was wounded by the grenades and they cut his body with knives,” Tahir Krasniqi told BIRN.

A total of 119 men were separated into four groups.

“The first group was of children between 13 and 17 years old. They pushed them to walk around 30 metres beyond us and executed them. The same happened with the second group. I was in the third. There were around 20 soldiers with machine guns who were shooting,” Krasniqi recalled.

The last thing that Krasniqi, now 75, remembers is the moment he tried to avoid a blackthorn tree that was near his face as the executioners were preparing to act.

He does not remember when two bullets caught him in the left thigh, or when the fourth group of villagers came under fire.

“I don’t know if I lost consciousness or I was in another world. I only remember the flow of water in the stream when half of my body had fallen in, and the bodies around me. It was night,” he said.

He said that he stayed there for some hours without moving in the stream because a house nearby was burning and it lit up the surrounding area.

“At one point I woke up and walked through dead bodies. The last face I remember was that of 17-year-old Zaim, who came from another village and was being sheltered in my house,” he said.

Moving through the water, he then saw two of his relatives who had escaped and were walking down the stream. Later, he saw that 13 people had survived. All of them were wounded.

“We walked all night through the stream and mountain until we reached the neighbouring village of Polluzhe. Only then did I see that two bullets had caught me. I didn’t feel them until that moment,” he said.

Blood flows into the stream

Beqir Krasniqi, 79, another survivor of the massacre, was in the fourth group, the last one to be marked for death.

He said that everything was over within an hour.

“It was two minutes past five when the horror started. My brother, Pajazit, was there. He was 45. I saw when he fell to the ground. I also saw my other relatives being killed in the third group. It was still daylight,” Beqir Krasniqi said.

He recalled how, when he came close to the execution site, he saw a heap of dead bodies. “I saw the blood all over the place, flowing down and joining the water of the stream. Then bullets were fired,” he said.

It was a cry from an injured victim that made Beqir return to his senses.

“It was our neighbour Murtezan. Then we crawled through the stream and saw Tahir [Krasniqi] and the others who survived. I then saw the Serb forces leaving the village, which was all on fire,” he said.

The day after, Tahir Krasniqi came back to the village along with some other locals to bury the bodies.

“We started to collect the bodies and dig graves. To better identify them later, we noted their names on their belts and on the wooden planks of each grave,” he said.

“Some of them were burned so we could not identify them at all. We wrapped the bodies with blankets and nylon sheets which were donated by humanitarian organisations for houses which were burned in 1998,” he added.

Over the course of three days, they buried all the victims in secret, because Serb forces had entered the village again several times and opened fire in the direction of the people who were burying the dead.

Tahir Krasniqi remembers those three rainy and windy days in April 1999 very well, waiting for the moment when Serb forces would leave the village so the locals could continue the burials.

“Some of them remained in open holes and the rain water covered them without having the possibility to cover them with soil,” he said.

Bodies exhumed and concealed

Pajazit Krasniqi, another resident of Pastasel/Pusto Selo who also lost 20 relatives, has collected evidence about the massacre and victims over the years and put it all in a book.

He said that some of bodies were burned in a tractor trailer after they were killed: “Four out of six of them were children. The youngest was 13,” He told BIRN.

On April 21, Serb forces returned to Pastasel/Pusto Selo and reburied all the 106 bodies with a mechanical digger.

“They were loaded into a civilian truck and sent off in the direction of Rahovec,” Pajazit Krasniqi said.

In June 1999, the remains of those killed in Pastasel/Pusto Selo were found in three mass graves in Rahovec/Orahovac, Prizren and Suhareka/Suva Reka. Eight bodies have never been found.

Maliq Fetahu from the neighbouring village of Guri i Kuq lost his father and nephew in the massacre after they had sought refuge in Pastasel/Pusto Selo.

He said that only few months ago, he found three bones of his father who had been missing ever since.

“We waited 20 years for bodies. How long should we wait to see justice done?” he asked.

His father, Salih, was 83, while his nephew Blerim was only 13.

In 2009, Beqir Krasniqi took the stand as a witness in the trial of Serbian officials Vladimir LazarevicVlastimir DjordjevicNebojsa Pavkovic and Sreten Lukic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Former Yugoslav Army generals Pavkovic and Lazarevic, former Serbian police general Lukic and former Serbian assistant interior minister Djordjevic were all found guilty of responsibility for the murder, deportation and inhumane treatment of Kosovo Albanians in 1999, including the massacre in Pastasel/Pusto Selo.

Lazarevic was sentenced to 14 years in prison and has since been released. Pavkovic was given 22 years, Lukic 20 years and Djordjevic 18 years.

Beqir argued that the sentences that were imposed did not offer justice for the victims: “The least they deserved is life prison,” he said.

On Sunday, a commemoration was held in Pastasel/Pusto Selo to mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre.

Addressing the families of the victims, the mayor of Rahovec/Orahovac, Smajl Latfi, said that it was one of the greatest tragedies of the Kosovo war.

“One hundred and six people were lined up and executed in the coldest of blood, with an order and a command… then reburied with the aim of destroying the traces of a crime which can never be hidden. With this, the Serbs committed a double crime,” Latifi said.

Latifi also lamented the fact that the direct perpetrators of the shootings remain free.

Twenty years on, Tahir Krasniqi said that he and Beqir Krasniqi are the only survivors who are still alive.

“All the other survivors have died. But I want to bear witness in a court before I die,” Tahir Krasniqi said.

But then he added: “I fear that I cannot see that day coming.”