This Atrocity is Still a Mystery to NATO. Perhaps I Can Help...
The Independent (London) 4/17/99
By Robert Fisk
When you stand at the site of a massacre, two things happen. First, you wonder about the depths of the human spirit. And then you ask yourself how many lies can be told about it.
The highway of death between Prizren and Djakovica - on which the Serbs say Nato slaughtered 74 Kosovo Albanian refugees in a series of bombing raids - is no different. Only hours after I slipped on a dead man's torso near an old Turkish bridge, less than a day after I stood by the body of a young and beautiful girl - her eyes gently staring at me between half-closed lids, the bottom half of her head bathed in blood - I watched James Shea, Nato's spokesman, trying to explain yesterday why Nato still didn't know what had happened on Wednesday.
All those torn and mangled bodies I had just seen - the old man ripped in half and blasted into a tree at Gradis, the smouldering skeleton with one bloody, still flesh-adhering foot over the back of a trailer at Terezick Most, the dead, naked man slouched over the steering wheel of a burnt tractor - all, apparently, were a mystery to Nato. So perhaps The Independent can help clear up this unhappy state of affairs with some evidence - damning perhaps, certainly important - from the scene.
But first a pause, to reflect on atrocities. The Serbs are "ethnically cleansing" Kosovo. It is a war crime. If Nato massacred the 74 Albanians, the Serbs have killed many more. On Thursday, I saw four buses in Kosovo packed with terrified Albanian women and children and old men, black curtains at the windows of the buses in an attempt to hide their presence. And at a square in the otherwise deserted town of Pozeranje, near Urosevac, I passed at least 200 pathetic Kosovo Albanians, exhausted, frightened, carrying plastic bags of clothes and battered holdalls, the old women in scarves, the young women clutching children to their bosoms, the old men wearing black berets; all were standing tightly together for protection, like animals.
They were waiting for another bus, I suppose - and, not for the first time these past three weeks, I thought of other scenes, in Eastern Europe just over half a century ago. At Pozeranje, I was seeing these poor people - for a few seconds only, from a vehicle window - at the very moment of their dispossession, on the very day of their "cleansing", within hours of their arrival among the flotsam of humanity along the Serbian border 12 miles away It was a wickedness I saw, the very moment of evil. When I drove through Pozeranje again yesterday, it was empty save for four horses running lose on the main road.
So why dwell on the 74 dead Kosovo Albanians whose remains have been left in such indignity along the Prizren-Djakovica road? Because the Serbs wanted us to see them? Because Nato was already embarrassed by the Serb claims of their slaughter? Because it "evens the balance" - it does not - between Serbia and its enemies? No, I suspect that the road of death and its terrible corpses is a challenge not to Nato's propaganda but to its morality. Nato, we are repeatedly told, represents "us", the good moral, decent people who oppose lies and murder. So Nato has a case to answer - for all our sakes. And the evidence lies on that awful road with its eviscerated people and its bomb craters.
Nato "thinks" it bombed a tractor on a road north of Djakovica. Indeed, Nato's military spokesman would say yesterday only that is was "possibly" a tractor. Mr Shea - or "Jamie" as he enjoins us to call him - says he is still trying to find out what happened to the 74 refugees. Nato needs more time, he tells us, to assess what it bombed and did not bomb. Well perhaps I can help Jamie to speed up his enquiries.
Of the four air-strike locations, I have visited the first three - at Velika Krusa, Gradis and Terzick Most - and they run consecutively from east to west along the Prizren-Djakovica road. At the third, I came across four bomb craters. I saw - and in some cases collected - a number of bomb and missile parts. At Gradis, I came across part of a missile circuit board, its congealed wiring attached to a plate which contains a manufacturer's code. Yesterday's Independent carried some of this.
But Nato will need the fullest possible information to trace this piece of ordnance quickly.
The full code (the brackets are empty on the original) reads as follows: SCHEM 872110 ( ) 96214ASSY8721122 - MSN 63341 [remaining figures obscured by detonation damage]
It shouldn't take Nato armaments experts more than a few hours to find out where that code came from - indeed what aircraft carried and fired that missile. Its pilot - if it was a Nato bomb - will then be able to explain why he fired it. At Velika Krusa, I found the fusing of an aerial bomb next to a smashed trailer containing the belongings of 35 Albanian refugees, four of whom - all women - were killed in this air strike. I also have in my possession what may be a swivel system to an aerial bomb. It is one-inch square, very damaged (Xs stand for the illegible parts) - but carries the code: "X6214 - 837XNY".
At Gradis, I found a large bomb part, green in colour but with stencilled colour code in English, whose full code reads: WING ASSEMBLY 96214ASSY 78-201872 872128 DATE OF MFG 3/78 Another similar bomb part contained the numbers: 96214ASSY 887760-4 At Gradis, too, part of what appeared to be a detonator contained a section of manufacturer's name: - TER Co Inc 13250 Again, Nato intelligence authorities should be able to work out some of those codings within a few minutes.
Another piece of a bomb had the single word "BENDIX" stamped on the metal. Other bomb and missile fragments contained moving fin assembly parts. Most of the shrapnel was so sharp it that it cut the hands of those who touched it. The corpses showed what happened when the bomb parts shredded them alive. One of the bodies lying in a field at Terezicki Most - that of a man in his 40s - had the top of his head cut cleanly off, along with his brain and eyes so that his face had turned into an actor's mask. A middle-aged woman in a purple pullover and brightly flowered skirt with her eyes open and a pale waxen face, had had her neck cut open.
Now, maybe Nato will find that these bomb and missile assembly parts belonged to weapons sold to other governments. Perhaps they will be able to claim that a Balkan nation was given the aerial bomb whose wing assembly number is recorded above. In which case, maybe Nato will say that the Yugoslav air force - of which not a single aircraft has been seen in the air since the start of the Nato bombardment - carried out this massacre of Albanian refugees.
Certainly, Yugoslav army officers at the bomb sites made no attempt to prevent photographers taking pictures of the larger pieces (though they showed no interest in the codings and seemed unable to understand my interest). And I saw one photographer drag a piece of bomb several metres and turn it over for a better photograph. But given the time available and the chaos on the road - Nato air raids were going on within a mile of us as we examined the bomb sites - it is impossible to believe that the Serbs had time to construct these terrible scenes.
At Gradis, there was evidence of strafing as well as aerial bombing. Huge troughs had been cut into the earth, each two feet in length, separated by up to 10 feet and unevenly separated as if a drunken monster had lurched through the field and on to the road. These appeared identical to the cannon fire marks I found at the scene of American A-10 "Tankbuster" strikes in the 1991 Gulf War. But there were no burnt-out tanks on the Prizren-Djakovica road; only tractors and trailers and an old milk-yellow van turned inside out by the explosion which destroyed it.
Along miles of the same road were other tractors, some scorched, most abandoned, apparently in panic, at the side of the road. The few Kosovo Albanians we found spoke of thousands on the road that day - 14 April - and it appears that they were moving in both directions. Survivors have said they came from the border, were moved to Djakovica and then told by Serb forces to move to Prizren. Most say they had no Serb escorts. I saw those awful buses with the black curtains moving in both directions near Prizren on Thursday. "Ethnic cleansing" is not a precise art. Nor is fear.
Undoubtedly some of the Kosovo Albanians on the road were terrified of the aircraft which bombed them in four separate locations. The fourth attack took place at Meja on the other side of Djakovica. It wasn't difficult for me to imagine the terror on that road. While we were picking our way through the corpses of Terezicki Most, Nato planes dropped bombs less than a mile away - cluster bombs from the sound of them - and a series of massive explosions changed the air pressure around us. We watched the skies. From time to time, we could hear - but not see - Nato jets power-diving.
Columns of dark smoke billowed over the bright green fields. But we found no military wreckage. Not a smashed rifle, not a piece of armour. There was a lot of glass on parts of the road - not a commodity to find in large amounts on military vehicles. The only victims of these air strikes appeared to be civilians. At Terezicki Most, I counted 13 corpses and other body parts. A missile had rammed a tractor, setting fire to its trailer and incinerating all inside. In the Prizren hospital mortuary, six corpses lay on the concrete floor. There was a woman, breasts exposed, on the right, a delicate child close to her with a bloodied face. A piece of paper with the number "1" written on it had been pinned to the shroud half covering an unknown man. We had names for the rest: Fikrija Sulja, Imer Celja, Ferat Bajrami, Persad Sanfjli and Nerdgivare Zecin.
Along the road, there were clothes and rags and broken cups and saucers beside the bomb sites and photograph albums and family snapshots. I picked up photographs of a pretty young Kosovo Albanian woman with a lace blouse and curls and long black earrings, of a smiling four-year old boy in a T-shirt standing on a sofa behind a vase of sunflowers, of the boy's parents and two other brothers on the same sofa, of two old women in Muslim scarves and of a blood group certificate - Rhesus positive - for a woman named Rama Resmije, dated 16 March 1993.
Did she live or die? Were the little boy and his parents and brothers torn apart in the air strikes on Wednesday? And what of the pretty woman in the earrings? If they survived, they deserve to know why their family and friends died. If they were killed, we deserve to know why. That these people were massacred in air strikes I do not doubt. I fear very much that they were slaughtered by Nato.
If so, why? Was this some terrible error about which Nato - after its attack on a passenger train last week - fears to tell us? Or did some Nato pilots (and this massacre needed three or four planes) make an error and agree to cover it up? Or - most awful of all - did a Nato pilot do something terriblem inexplicable, two days ago and then lie about it?
Nato, I suspect, can tell us. And those of us who walked among the innocent dead on the road from Prizren to Djakovica this week are waiting to hear Jamie tell the truth.