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Dusan Masic, for Radio B2-92, interviews Natasa Kandic, manager of the Humanitarian Law Fund

B2-92: Today we're going to talk about things nobody has talked about yet, but which must be discussed if we want to move forward. To begin with I'll read you a story. This is an account by Natasa Kandic of events that took place in the Kosovo village of Cuska:

"In the houses, Gushi found incinerated bodies and, from pieces of clothing and belts, they recognised husbands and cousins. Of the group of forty men, only three survived. I spoke to two of them. According to them they were in groups of twelve or thirteen and were taken to a particular house. When they entered the house a soldier threw a lighter to the one who survived and told him to set the house on fire. The man doesn't remember what he did with the lighter, but he heard shots. He looked to the right: the door of the room was open and he jumped through the window and ran to the woods where he stayed until night. He then returned home.

The other survivor was wounded. The scenario was similar. They were ordered to sit down in a room. They were shot. This is when he was wounded. At one point he saw soldiers throwing burning sponges at people. He managed to push off the two bodies lying on top of him and jump out of the window of the room. Only when he reached the woods did he realise that he had been shot in both legs.

I found him in a room, wrapped in some kind of cardboard. He had spent more than ten days in the woods because he was afraid that if he returned to the village the army would find him there, wounded. The same day, thirty people were executed in the same way in the villages of Pavljan and Zahac. I didn't talk to anyone in Ljubinic. The village looks terrible. There are indications that more than three hundred people were killed and incinerated in this village. I saw the yard of a house where people were murdered. There are still bones lying there. Bodies. Five or six different spots where they had been burned. The ashes are still there and you can make out bones among them. I've never seen anything more horrible than this field of bones."

This is a story about Kosovo that nobody is talking about yet. Why do you think that is?

Kandic: I think that people are slowly beginning to talk about it in some small groups. Army reservists are talking a lot about what happened during their time in Kosovo; the families whose sons were there are talking about it. But people are still not speaking in public about what was going on before KFOR arrived. In public, people are talking a lot about what is happening now, not from the point of view of the people to whom it is happening but mainly because of the situation in Kosovo and relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Sources in Kosovo are quoted, but there is not enough information about what is happening to Serbs, Romanies and members of other ethnic groups in Kosovo.

B2-92: What will it take for people to begin talking about this? Is it possible for it to happen before all the stories from Croatia and Bosnia have been told?

Kandic: People are talking. Father Sava and Bishop Artemije are talking about it a lot. Father Sava has been talking about it for months and anyone who listens to him carefully could have asked questions in public, demanded public discussion on it. Here in Belgrade we've talked a lot about what happened in Croatia and Bosnia. We've had a kind of political society, a kind of intellectual society, a kind of critical society here in Belgrade. We took a very strong tone on things that were attributed to various forces, police or the Yugoslav Army, in events in Bosnia. A great deal was written in a critical tone about the involvement and responsibility of our politicians for everything that was happening. However something happened to us when that war and those crimes came closer to home. What happened is once again connected to the regime we have criticised so much because of the crimes, especially in Bosnia. The regime managed to homogenise the whole nation and to introduce such fear that people have simply remained blocked in any attempt to see what was happening outside Belgrade, remained blocked in any attempt to raise questions in public, to say anything in public about the thousands of pages they have read in the international media or on the Internet or could have heard first hand from the Serbs who, even then, were fleeing Kosovo.

B2-92: When you tell this kind of story to the man in the street here in Serbia, the most common reply, or at least the one I was getting, is well, this is war, such things happen in war, and behind that word "war", anything could be done and nobody would be responsible.

Kandic: My experience is a little different. I had the experience of being shocked by the reaction of Serbs in Kosovo but, as time passes and I meet more people from Kosovo who are here or who stayed on there, I am seeing a change. My first meeting with Kosovo Serbs, and my attempt to tell what I saw, was in Pec, which is now completely deserted; what Serbs are left, are in the Pec Patriarchate.

On June 13, when I had come from the village of Cusk and had been shaken by what I saw. I was shaken in the first place by the words of a thirteen-year-old who, when I arrived and he heard that I was speaking Serbian and heard what I was saying, opened his eyes wide and asked me in astonishment: how do you have the courage to come here and ask what happened when my father, my uncles and a lot of my cousins and neighbours have been killed and been killed by Serbs.

When I replied that this was exactly why I had come and that I had come to apologise on my own behalf and to deliver a message that what had happened was awful, and that it didn't mean that every Serb had done it but that every Serb must know it and must think about it and must speak about it in public, I saw that the child was changing, he stared at me in disbelief: how could someone come like this and tell him things like that and ask forgiveness.

I saw those survivors. I spoke to those women who were robbed then held in burning houses for the purpose of some kind of additional intimidation. I spoke to children who had gone through all that. I saw the houses, the rooms in which the bodies had been burned. I saw bones among the ashes. I saw pieces of clothing. After that I saw a lot of similar villages and a lot of houses in which bodies had been burned and a lot of bones. And then at the central square in Pec I ran into a group of two hundred Serbs who were in a strange mood. About a hundred of them were in a psychologically critical mood, not knowing what to do, thinking they should stay, that they had had nothing to do with all that arson, the looting of Albanian houses, the murders, but there were also people who were calling for arms, saying the KLA had appeared in the town, that although the authorities had told them to bury their uniforms and their arms, they should take them up again and prepare themselves for war.

I approached them then and asked them what kind of war they were preparing for; there were two hundred of them, the military-technical agreement had been signed, the functions of the Serbian government were being taken over by the UN - it was not getting through to them at all and it was clear that they had no information about what had been happening. The last information they had had was from the municipal authorities and the municipal police who told them to bury their uniforms and their weapons, do what they want, stay or go, the choice was theirs. When I told them that it was very good that they had decided to stay and that they should all stay, those who had had nothing to do with what had happened in the town, but that they must be prepared for the Albanians when they return to ask them what had happened, who had set whose house on fire, where is the furniture from the house, who murdered who. I asked them if they knew what had happened two kilometres away in the village of Cusk and I told them what I had seen in the village of Cusk.

Some of them looked at me and said: you are making this up; if you saw that, if they told you Albanian civilians were buried there they are lying; those could only be slaughtered Serbs and the Albanians have dug up Serb graves somewhere and taken Serbs from those graves in order to show the world how Serbs were killing Albanians.

When I asked them to talk about it rationally, who had controlled the village, Pec and the immediate neighbourhood from March until June 13, they said: well, nobody, except the police and the Yugoslav Army and various volunteer groups from Serbia. Then I asked them whether it was really possible, if all that territory had been under the control of Serb forces, that somebody had been killing Serbs and that they in Pec didn't know anything about it. Then several of them said, no, but there were also some said that if things were really that way then somebody must take responsibility for it.

Let me mention something about Pristina where I saw, for the first time, when the bombing began, the first cases of solidarity among Serbs and Albanians in Pristina: up to then I have never seen that in Pristina. I had the opportunity to see a mixed group of people in front of their buildings, organised to guard them. Until June, while I was constantly going there, I had the opportunity to see that solidarity and to see that something new had happened between these native Albanians and Serbs in Pristina.

As the Serbs began to flee from Kosovo, in the second half of June, I began talking to a new kind of people here and I saw that not all the Serbs from Kosovo are so homogeneous and not all of them are under the influence of that single-mindedness state media has broadcast for years and it is not true that all the Serbs from Kosovo see the whole thing in Kosovo as treason by Milosevic and they really don't care and are not interested in what was happening to the Albanians. I have met people who knew very well what was happening, who feel the burden of crime and think that we are branded by what happened in Kosovo, all of us, even here, and that this thing cannot be cleared up, that there will be no justice until it is taken in Serbia, that the Serbs from Kosovo did not participate in these crimes so much, that the major force was from here, from Serbia, that they had seen those special forces, that a small number of Kosovo Serbs had joined those forces.

I saw Serbs from Djakovica, I think that they are the ones who are most troubled by what was done to the Albanians in Djakovica. There was only a small number of Serbs in Djakovica from the very beginning, they had very good relationships with the Albanians. It is true that all the men were forced to take up arms, they were mobilised, they were taking up guard posts, walking around town armed, but they know very well what happened. In Djakovica there are no more than a thousand men, including boys aged fourteen or fifteen to old men. And the Serbs know, know that they were probably executed and they know that they will carry what happened in Djakovica with them all their life, although the majority of them had nothing to do with it. Certain additional, specially formed, police units broke into some parts of Djakovica and took away hundreds of men who haven't appeared since. Djakovica is a small place after all, they all know one another, so the Serbs know very well who's missing, which of their neighbours are missing.

B2-92: Who is it more difficult for: those who left Kosovo or those who stayed?

Kandic: It depends on the place. Those who are in Pristina at the moment, in Gnjilane, it's horrifying for them. The fear they feel can be understood only by the Albanians because they felt that kind of fear from March 24 until KFOR arrived. This is the kind of fear we here in Belgrade know only in part, when Belgrade was lost in darkness and we could only hear the state media reports of the NATO bombing. In Orahovac, however, there is a Serb settlement beside an Orthodox church and it happened that, when the Albanians returned after the arrival of KFOR, about six hundred Serbs who had been living in mixed buildings were evicted. I went to see if it was possible to fight for the people to stay because all of them were obsessed with the urge to leave.

It seemed to me that it would be useful to tell the Serbs who stayed in Orahovac the facts of what the foreign media were saying and what was being said among the Albanians because the Serbs in that part of Orahovac had been completely isolated. Dutch and German members of KFOR were protecting them. Orahovac is relevant also because it is the only place where the municipal management stayed.

Talking with the ordinary people there it is immediately clear that they think the worst of that municipal management, that the formal structure through which they had listened to the president of the municipality had broken down. I was surprised to hear some very positive things from the people within the civilian authorities: none of them denied that there were a lot of people, even among those who had stayed who had participated in the looting and burning of Albanian property, there was no way that paramilitary troops coming from Serbia could have known which of the houses were Albanian had it not been for local informants, they claimed that those who had participated in crimes such as murders and abductions had got away in time, but those who stayed were under accusation that they were war criminals and were under a demand to deliver twenty or thirty of those accused. They didn't even deny the fact I got from KFOR that there was a lot of stolen Albanian property found in that village and that KFOR had confiscated all that.

B2-92: What do those Serbs plan to do now? Can KFOR protect them for long, or are they only thinking about leaving? Do they hope to find some kind of coexistence in which everything will be forgotten?

Kandic: Their opinions are divided. The majority want to leave as soon as possible. I think there is no survival for them in Kosovo. However there are people, the former municipal officials and some experts among them, who think it is very important to survive but believe that they must start talking to the Albanians and clear up matters surrounding the accusations of war crimes. A lot of women have disappeared - I saw three mass graces. The Serbs who have stayed are facing all these things, but some of them are ready to take part in clearing these matters up, to lift that suspicion that all them participated in crimes.

B2-92: What kind of reaction do you expect from our listeners to these stories? Do you expect divisions? Will there be those who will say that you are lying about all this because it is foreign propaganda, because all of it is fabrication? Or will there be those who will say, yes, this is true and finally we have to speak about it? Or will they accuse you of trying to cover up NATO crimes or of caring more about Albanians than Serbs?

Kandic: All of them who watch television, who listen and read, can see what is happening to Serbs and members of other minorities. In such a situation it is not easy to be impartial, it's not easy to hear about something which happened earlier to those who are now putting pressure on Serbs and expelling them. This is why all reactions seem natural to me at the moment. I'm not on the Albanian side nor on the Serb side. I'm always on the side of the endangered. I even expect them to ask me what I've done for Serbs. I understand all that and I have an answer for it.

Listener: No one is without blame in war, but you are making them look like martyrs. You know, the things you are talking about are not typical of Serb fighters.

Listener: (Obscenity)

Listener: The things that Ms Kandic is talking about, about circles in which people talk about these things, that is how I heard about it. The tragedy is that there is truth in it, the tragedy is that there is truth in what the people who contradict her are saying, and I have always wondered why there is no Natasa Kandic among, let's say, the Croats, Muslims or Albanians, because I think it is a good thing that you exist.

B2-92: Is there anybody from Kosovo Albanian non-governmental organisations who works in the same way?

Kandic: Wait, I don't understand this question. Just a few days ago we succeeded in publishing a document about Serbs who have gone missing since KFOR arrived. I don't understand this question, I am working and the organisation I head is working on matters which concern human rights. At this moment it seems to us to be very important to try to inform the public, and international organisations, about what is happening there to Serbs, Romanies and others and to influence them to stop that and to show with the facts whether it is only retaliation, revenge, or whether it is ethnic cleansing hiding in the shape of revenge.

Listener: She was visiting Kosovo from March 23 until the arrival of KFOR in Kosovo. How was she able to get past the police and army, who are repressive you know, and she is a great opponent of the regime? How was she able to recognise Albanian bones among those burnt in, as she says, Albanian room. Did she stumble on cases where Serb bones were found?

Kandic: I was going there from March 27... from March 24 until the withdrawal of the Yugoslav Army anyone could travel from here to Kosovo without any hindrance. It's true that there were few travellers, but there were some, there were a lot of women and men taking food to their relatives. As someone who travelled to Kosovo I was an odd phenomenon to police in checkpoints. I was once detained by police and later turned over to military security for interrogation but, even so, it was less repressive than it would have been for, say, an Albanian, because I was from Belgrade, because I am a Serb and because I have this name and surname. How did I recognise the bones? My task was not to recognise bones: that is a job for experts. My task was to talk to all who survived and a special task of mine was to show them that I felt terrible about everything that had happened, to ask them for forgiveness for what had happened and to let them know that many people would say the same.

Listener: With the kind of questions you're getting, do you believe that the truth will come out one day and that we Serbs will accept it?

Kandic: The truth, whatever that is... You know, part of the truth is going to be revealed by the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. They will show in their indictments and, later on, in the trials, whether what is said to have happened is true. I think that the question of the moment is when will the people who know about it, let's say Serbs, begin to talk about what they know. Just see the reservists in Leskovac, for example, they're not saying exactly what happened because they were not where the crimes were happening, but they heard a lot, saw some from the distance. The reservists are talking about it, part of the truth is known to a large number of people but, let me repeat, it is absent on the public level.

Listener: I personally, as a member of this nation, am glad that people are talking about it because I want our name to be taken off this. I've heard a story about a policeman who come back with ten kilograms of gold, about paramilitary formations going to what was known as the aspic feast - which means cutting throats. As a normal human being I can't accept being part of that kind of people. We have to clean our own backyard first.

B2-92: Do you believe it is realistic to expect that this country will somehow try to mete out justice in these cases?

Kandic: As with events in Croatia and Bosnia we have not had trials here. Even events in the form of a trial should not have been conducted. In 1994 the District Court in Saab conducted a trial of members of the paramilitary formation known as the Yellow Wasps, and it was terrible. Even journalists who came from Belgrade to cover the trial had to leave. Nobody could follow the trial for two reasons. First, the prosecutor showed unprecedented familiarity and ideological agreement with the accused and second because the court had no concern for a woman who had been a victim of sexual violence and tolerated extremely indecent questions addressed to her by the accused. Everybody felt insulted by the court's behaviour. The trial finished, that member of the paramilitary formation was found to be mentally incompetent. There were no other trials. In Montenegro a trial of a member of Lukic's group for the abduction of Muslims from passenger trains began, there were some trials for looting whose outcome is unknown. I have heard that the army in Djakovica tried a number of reservists involved in rape or murder and that it had been completed in several days and in accordance with military procedures. The investigation by the Nis District Court is the first case related to Kosovo - the murder of two Albanians in Orahovac and the theft of 450 DM. It's not to be expected that there would be trials here in the existing situation, except perhaps as an attempt of the regime to stage some new game. Only when something changes here, only by exposing what has happened can we move on.

Listener: Are there any indications of how the army behaved in this situation?

Kandic: As far as the Yugoslav Army is concerned I think it's important to say that there are no Albanians who would say anything bad about the young army, about recruits. Whenever I have spoken to Albanians about their encounters with the Yugoslav Army, they have said that whenever they met young soldiers on their route to expulsion, that these were very sad encounters, that many soldiers had approached them, offering whatever they had in their bags, giving them milk, meat paste, sugar, that they were apologising. That word apologising was constantly repeated by many Albanians. They say that these young men were crying, so I would repeat that these young men have remained unblemished. It seems that some kind of special units were formed within the Yugoslav Army and charged with expulsions, arson, participation in mass murders but, fortunately, the young soldiers had nothing to do with it.

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