Max Sawicky sawicky at
Wed Apr 7 09:24:37 PDT 1999

Kosovo diary

Fernando del Mundo arrived in Kosovo for UNHCR shortly after

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agreed to allow humanitarian

agencies free access to the region’s war-affected people. Following

are highlights from his diary about what happened next:


August 16: Attempted to deliver emergency supplies to 100

displaced people in Decane but by the time we arrive they had

vanished. Returning to Pristina, we see groups of 100-200 people

along theVistrica River and local aid workers say there are 10,000

homeless in the area. It is still summertime and fruits and

vegetables are plentiful but the signs of war are everywhere: rotting

crops, the carcasses of machine-gunned livestock, clusters of ruined

stone houses.

August 18: A Kosovo Liberation Army commander accuses UNHCR

staff of being spies as we try to deliver aid to 20,000 people in

central Kosovo. A local doctor is treating 100 people per day, 90

percent of them children stricken with diarrhea. Their distended

bellies remind me of Africa’s malnourished children.

August 25: Three Mother Teresa Society workers are killed when

seven tractor trailers loaded with UNHCR emergency supplies are

blasted by artillery rounds. Passing by Pagarusa, a 34-year-old

mother tells me the child she is carrying was born in the woods five

weeks earlier. She is still looking for her two other children who were

separated from her when her village was shelled.

August 29: Two colleagues and I visit Senik which was hit the day

before. Houses still smoulder. Tractor trailers filled with food and

personal possessions are ablaze. At least 17 people were killed in

the attack. The villagers ask us to stay on to deter snipers as they

bury their dead in the rain. Among the victims is a two-week old

baby who died of starvation because her wounded mother could not

feed her.

September 1: Orahovac was abandoned in July, but the government

says 30,000 people have returned from the woods and things appear

normal with shops open. It is the first sign that people, though still

scared, are going back.

September 4: There were 5,000 people on a hill above Sedlare 24

hours ago, but today the place is empty. It is like this throughout the

summer — people moving in and out of villages, from one place to

another. It is difficult to even keep track of this constant swirl of


September 9: Thousands of people have fled to the Pec region. A

colleague and I try to estimate numbers packed into cars, carts and

tractor trailers bumper-to-bumper but we give up after walking three

kilometers. Shell fire is getting nearer and an old man begs, “Please,

could you do something to stop the shelling.” As we leave soldiers

and tanks are gathering a few kilometers away. When we return the

next day, all the people have gone.

September 11: Houses in the town of Barane are burning. Police

emerge from some homes as we drive by. One carries a television

set. Further on, the villages of Celopek and Kostradic have been

damaged by the fighting and are empty.

September 19: After three previous attempts we reach villages

north of Pristina which have been engulfed by a four-day government

offensive. Ten thousand people have fled. In Dobratin, 30 of 70

houses have been torched. The villagers are stoic. The next day they

are very agitated; they have just found the charred remains of three

people burned in an outhouse.

September 21: KLA soldiers have been helping old men, women

and children from Kacanol mountain village northwest of Pristina.

One 70-year-old man wandered the woods for five days looking for

his family of eight. Another is on the verge of tears; a six month

supply of wheat he bought with money sent by a brother in Germany

has been burned by soldiers.

September 25: A military offensive is at its height. Houses are on

fire in villages in central Kosovo. We pass a convoy of government

trucks with signs pasted on them ‘Social Humanitarian Aid of

Kosovo and Metohija.’ The wind whips up the tarpaulin on one truck,

revealing blue uniformed police crammed inside.

September 26: High Commissioner Sadako Ogata visits Resnik 25

kilometers north of Pristina and talks with some of the 25,000 people

who fled a military sweep in the region. As Ogata sloshes by in the

mud, one portly old man in a woollen skullcap mutters: “It is a

shame for Milosevic to put his people in a situation like this.”

September 30: Three Red Cross workers lie dead or dying on a

sunlit hill at Gornje Obrinje after their car hit a land-mine. People try

to attract a Yugoslav helicopter by waving Red Cross flags. My

colleague, John Campbell, a veteran British soldier, turns on his

vehicle’s headlights to attract the chopper. It is too late for one

wounded doctor who died moments before.

October 27: Serbian troops pull back from positions in Kosovo

following a peace agreement that 2,000 verifiers of the Organization

for Security and Cooperation in Europe will oversee. The atmosphere

is like Liberation Day. People return to their homes for the first time

in months. Relatives embrace each other weeping. At Malisevo, the

purported capital of a liberated Kosovo, a guerrilla commander talks

to reporters as government troops withdraw from a garrison just a

kilometer away.

November 3: As snow begins to cover the mountain tops, the last

of an estimated 50,000 most vulnerable people encamped in the

hills, go back to their villages. But many find their houses destroyed.

There are still 200,000 people displaced in Kosovo.

November 9: The war is never far away. Several hundred returnees

at Opterusa in the Suva Reka municipality flee again. Five KLA

guerrillas are killed in a nearby ambush three days later.

November 19: Velika Hoca is a mainly Serb village and local Serbs

flash the thumb and two finger sign of defiance. Over coffee and local

brandy a couple say Albanian villagers have fired on them but there

have been no major confrontations. The housewife says her village

has been spared thus far because there are 13 churches here and

God has protected them from the bloodletting.

December 4: All but two houses in the village of Lodja have been

destroyed by war-planes, artillery and mortar fire. The mayhem is

reminiscent of Warsaw during World War Two. A sign in Serbian is

scrawled on a wall at the entrance to the village that roughly

translates ‘Lodja does not exist anymore.’

December 14: Despite the October cease-fire, the spiral of violence

ratchets up. Masked men spray gunfire at the Panda Cafe in Pec,

killing six Serbian teenagers playing pool. Along the frontier, soldiers

kill 34 armed Albanian intruders.


January 16: Forty-five people are massacred in the village of Racak

in Stimlje during a Serb sweep. The strikes are triggered by KLA

assaults on policemen and the kidnapping of eight soldiers and five

Serb civilians. More than 30,000 ethnic Albanians are again on the

move. There is no sign of a political breakthrough and there are

again threats of NATO airstrikes.

January 21: Despite the renewed fighting, some areas are stable.

Malisevo was emptied in July and its 3,000 residents were afraid to

go back because of a heavy police presence. Following the

deployment of the international monitors, however, more than half

the people did return, including Ramadan Mazreky. He considers

himself lucky because none of his extended family of 45, including

25 children, were harmed in the fighting.

January 28: Travelling along dirt tracks in the snow covered valley at

Velika Reka we can hear the rattle of gunfire and occasional mortar

blast as government forces pursue another offensive. A KLA

commander sweeps by and says, “we are not giving up one inch of

our positions.” At the nearby village of Bradas a group of men say

that 20 percent of the people from each village in Kosovo have

already fled abroad. More are thinking of getting out. “How many

more people must die before NATO acts?” demands one old man.

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