Our government didn’t know that a building it targeted in Belgrade was the Chinese embassy, but it presumes to tell us what is going on in Kosovo based on what it hears from refugees. In a recently released report it claimed that Serbian forces had executed more than 4,000 Kosovars, that mass rapes had been carried out in two towns, Djakovica and Pec. In releasing the report, Secretary of State Albright said, “Horrific patterns of war crimes…are emerging in Kosovo: systemic executions, organized rape and a well-planned program of terror and expulsions.” It said Serb forces had expelled as many as 120,000 Albanians from the provincial capital, Pristina, in four days, leaving it a ghost town.
Steven Erlanger, a New York Times reporter was allowed to visit Kosovo and see for himself what had happened there. In a story printed in The Times on May 5, he said that Pristina was coming back to life as Serbs and a few Albanians trickled back into the city. Why had they left?
A senior Serb official told Erlanger that in the first two weeks after the bombing, there were “a lot of vile and angry people who were out of control.” They “rampaged through the city, burning and looting and ordering Albanians to leave.” He said that in the villages where the KLA was strongest, he was sure people were shot to death, but he doubted that there were mass executions. Others said that in Pristina people were ordered or threatened into leaving soon after the bombing began.
But a second wave left when downtown Pristina was bombed two weeks later. A third wave left because they panicked when everyone else seemed to be leaving. Thousands of Serbs left also, and those who didn’t sent their wives and children away to safer areas. Erlanger was told that 350 Serbian civilians, policemen and soldiers had been arrested for such crimes as looting and arson. At the largest hospital in Pristina, Erlanger was told that 420 civilians wounded by our bombing had been treated, 25 percent of them children and 60 percent Albanian. The staff of the hospital was half Serb and half Albanian. Most of the Albanian staff was still there.
In Prizren, a city near the Albanian border, a residential area was bombed on April 30. That triggered arrests of some Albanians and orders to others to leave. This set off a panic bordering on mass hysteria. In two days 30,000 ethnic Albanians fled to Albania. An Albanian told Erlanger that people were terrified by both the bombing and the Serbs. He said, “When the bombs landed on the houses, a lot of people became afraid.” Prizren and its environs had been bombed almost daily for nearly a week.
Erlanger says that 1.2 million Albanians remain in Kosovo according to UN refugee experts. That is two-thirds of the pre-bombing population. Some fled their homes and some have returned. He visited Albanian village where there had been no KLA presence, and no one had left, but a missile had killed a child. This is a far different from the government’s claim of slaughter and expulsion directed from Belgrade.