Tuesday, September 13, 2005


The international community has properly decreed
that Kosovo's final status must not involve division of
its territory. But this declaration has not been followed by
sufficient action. Belgrade's policy of pursuing some form
of partition is far advanced in the restive northern
city of Mitrovica and its hinterland, and a major security,
political and financial effort is required to save the
situation. Capacity should be built immediately, and its
implementation should begin once the Contact Group has
declared its support for Kosovo's future as a functional,
conditionally independent state within its present borders.
Territorial integrity is the correct policy because
partition could provoke further population exchanges
inside Kosovo and instability elsewhere in the Balkans,
especially in neighbouring Macedonia. But division
remains a live issue, not least because in Mitrovica,
where Kosovo is increasingly divided at the Ibar River,
the UN mission (UNMIK) and NATO-led security
forces (KFOR) have failed to carry out their mandates.
In north Mitrovica and the neighbouring communities
up to the border, an area that contains perhaps a third
of all Kosovo's remaining Serbs, Belgrade exerts its
influence through parallel government structures,
including a police presence that contravenes UN
Security Council Resolution 1244.
Settling Mitrovica early in the final status process presupposes
foreknowledge of Kosovo's overall destination.
But it is time for Contact Group member states to stop
talking of final status as a process open to a wide range
of results. In fact, behind closed doors international
consensus is taking shape. Making that manifest near the
outset, and cementing it in Mitrovica, would contribute
to a virtuous circle of stability and predictability. Letting
Mitrovica drift would risk making realisation of that
consensus unlikely.
Despite the six-year standoff, Mitrovica is not impenetrable
to transformation that would increase the chances for a
unified Kosovo. The international community should
put more resources and energy behind a clear, articulated
program of compromise between each side's maximum
demands. A first step should be the appointment of a
Special Commissioner for Mitrovica for the status
determination period, with the rank of Deputy Special
Representative of the Secretary-General and power to
coordinate the effort.
UNMIK and KFOR must quickly regain the security
initiative north of the Ibar by increasing force levels
and assertiveness, under the Special Commissioner's
direction. KFOR should explicitly make Mitrovica and
the north its primary operational focus and restructure
accordingly. Belgrade's illegal police stations should
be removed from north Kosovo, and the Special
Commissioner should negotiate the replacement of the
obstructive hardliners who head the regional hospital
and university there. Plans for devolving the brittle,
ethnically divided Mitrovica regional police command
to local control should be delayed until the Special
Commissioner can secure a viable Albanian-Serb security
consensus for the north that squares territorial integrity
with Serb fears of being overwhelmed.
With the security situation under better control, the
framework of a solution that needs to be pursued with
greater commitment and sense of urgency could include
creation of a new municipal authority for north Mitrovica,
which should furnish both the security and accountability
for addressing Albanian returns, and creation of a central
administrative district shared between the current
Mitrovica municipality and the new north Mitrovica unit
that could house a common city board to receive donor
funding for the city's development.
The strategic need is to encourage the Serbs of north
Kosovo -- and Belgrade -- to think increasingly of north
Mitrovica becoming the hub of an effort to provide
services for all Kosovo's Serbs. The central district's
broader uniting purpose could be reflected by hosting
two or three ministries relocated from the capital; the
similarly relocated Supreme Court; possibly a Kosovowide
Serbian-language television station; and some
elements of Kosovo central government that would
accommodate an autonomous, Kosovo-wide system of
education, healthcare, and other social services for
Serbs. Both the international community and Kosovo's
government should aim to incorporate Belgrade's
parallel structures into this system within a specified
Bridging Kosovo's Mitrovica Divide
Crisis Group Europe Report N°165, 13 September 2005 Page ii
time frame by offering matching funds and a guaranteed
cooperative role for the Serbian government.
Without conceding it formal entity status on the Bosnia-
Herzegovina model, the Serb north should be offered the
substance of autonomy, including devolved powers for
municipalities, freedom for municipalities to associate on
a voluntary basis, and the coordination and resource
role made possible through the proposed Serb units of
Kosovo's government ministries. Albanians should be
persuaded that support for participation in these initiatives
by viable new Serb-majority municipalities elsewhere
in Kosovo would dampen pressure for division on the
Ibar line.
In short, if facts on the ground in Mitrovica and even new
violence are not to destroy the prospect of a stable final
status settlement for Kosovo, the international community
needs to work harder and creatively to change Serb
strategic thinking and get Albanians to recognise the need
to participate in a constructive offer. The no-partition
dictum is, unfortunately, not self-executing.
Preliminary steps, by end October 2005
To the Contact Group and its Member States and
the UN Secretary-General:
1. Appoint a Special Commissioner for Mitrovica,
with the rank of Deputy Special Representative of
the UN Secretary-General, preferably someone
with a military background and experience of
civilian implementation, to hold office until at
least the end of 2006.
2. Reinforce and reconfigure international security
forces in Mitrovica and north Kosovo by replacing
KFOR's French-commanded Multinational
Brigade North-East with a force designed to
closely support the Special Commissioner, and by
introducing a special international paramilitary
police unit such as the new European Gendarmerie
Force, under the Special Commissioner's direct
3. Set the stage for a Mitrovica settlement by stating
clearly and publicly that the Contact Group's
preferred outcome for Kosovo is as a functional,
conditionally independent state.
4. Invite Belgrade to participate in Kosovo Albanian-
Kosovo Serb negotiations on decentralisation
under the aegis of the Special Representative of the
Secretary-General, conditional on its acceptance of
the foregoing Contact Group statement.
5. Allocate, together with the EU, funds for a
multifaceted Mitrovica investment program.
6. Take a more cautious approach to devolving police
commands to the Kosovo Police Service in the
Mitrovica region pending the final status settlement,
deploy international police and customs officers
to the Leposavic and Zubin Potok boundary
crossings, and develop a modified chain of
command, giving the Special Commissioner
control over new international paramilitary police
forces to be deployed into the Mitrovica region.
7. Energise the Kosovo Albanian cross-party final
status working groups to begin developing a
framework for resolving the problem of Mitrovica
and the north within parameters that rule out
partition, stipulate substantial decentralisation and
encourage secure returns of former residents to
their homes on both sides of the Ibar, and do the
same in parallel with the Serbs through the mayors
of the three northern municipalities, the leadership
of the Serb List for Kosovo and Metohija, and
(perhaps indirectly) the Serbian National Council.
8. Make a more determined effort to educate Serbs
and Albanians in Mitrovica about developments
and conditions on the other side of the Ibar divide
by supporting new public information programs
and encouraging relevant news about the other in
their respective media.
To the Provisional Institutions of Government
(PISG) in Pristina:
9. Using the final status working groups, explore
and prepare public opinion in Mitrovica and
throughout Kosovo for various options of reorganising
Mitrovica and giving it a constructive
10. Enable creation of more Serb-majority municipal
units south of the Ibar, in particular a greater
Gracanica municipality, to act as counterweights
to Serbian pressures for partition.
To Belgrade:
11. Cooperate with the Special Commissioner in
identifying credible candidates to lead Mitrovica's
university and regional hospital.
12. Prepare to close down parallel police stations and
courts in north Kosovo, including by negotiating
with the Special Commissioner for credible security
provision to fill gaps their removal may leave.
Bridging Kosovo's Mitrovica Divide
Crisis Group Europe Report N°165, 13 September 2005 Page iii
13. Begin designing an outreach structure to assume
joint responsibility with the PISG for supporting a
non-territorial scheme of autonomous healthcare,
education, and social services for all Kosovo Serbs.
Negotiation steps, from November 2005
To the PISG/Kosovo Final Status Working
14. Make a generous offer to Serbs, including:
(a) willingness to negotiate mechanisms for
demilitarisation and joint security oversight
with the Serbs of the Mitrovica region and
acceptance that Serb municipalities will
have the final say in appointment of their
police chiefs;
(b) willingness to accept a Serb municipality
in Mitrovica that subscribes to a common
city coordinating board and a unifying
role for the city in Kosovo, and works
to accommodate the rights of Albanian
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs);
(c) willingness to give Serbs space in central
government and institutions, such as by
relocating some of them to Mitrovica
(and Gracanica), and offering Serbs a
deputy prime minister post; and
(d) guarantees such as dual citizenship, an
open border with Serbia, and national-rate
telephone connections to Serbia.
To the Special Commissioner:
15. Consult widely in Mitrovica on models for the
city's future administration and role and decide
by the end of 2005:
(a) whether north Mitrovica should be a standalone
municipality or combined with
(b) the territory of any central inter-municipal
district; and
(c) the electoral rights of its inhabitants, and the
shape of any common city board.
16. Found a joint Serb-Albanian-international security
coordination body, seated in central Mitrovica,
to seek consensus on a security concept for the
Mitrovica region and eventually oversee its
17. Oversee and, if necessary, determine and (with
KFOR assistance) enforce the selection by
November 2005 of new heads for the regional
hospital and university.
Implementation steps, from early to late 2006
To the Special Commissioner:
18. Design the new Serb-majority municipality in
north Mitrovica, the central inter-municipal
district and the city coordinating board; establish
automatic funding for administration and projects
of the common board in the budgets of the north
and south Mitrovica municipalities; and decide
whether initially to appoint councillors or go
straight to a municipal election in the north.
19. Oversee Albanian returns to north Mitrovica.
20. Oversee establishment of revolving funds for
Mitrovica-based service institutions, including
the regional hospital, university, a new Serbianlanguage
public television channel (RTK-2), and
a new shared Coordination Centre/Kosovo Ministry
of Economy and Finance unit for regularising
Serb parallel structures throughout Kosovo as a
non-territorial autonomous system to provide
education, healthcare, and social services for
21. Lay the groundwork for a Kosovo Albanian-
Kosovo Serb agreement on security management
of the north by overseeing the obligatory
disbandment of Belgrade's police (MUP) stations
in north Kosovo and implementation of any
decision reached by the joint security coordination
body on the regional Kosovo Protection Corps
command in south Mitrovica.
22. Oversee introduction and enforcement of Kosovo
car licence plates north of the Ibar.
To the PISG/Kosovo Final Status Working
23. Seek Serb partners in Mitrovica and north Kosovo
with whom to agree on security management of
the north, and consider such mechanisms and
techniques as joint oversight bodies, regular rotation
schedules, and sub-contracting some responsibilities
to international personnel so that Kosovo's
sovereignty can be exercised consistent with
its Serbs' concerns about Albanian domination.
24. Establish new, largely Serb-staffed units of
ministries -- in Mitrovica, Gracanica and Pristina
-- to administer the new autonomous system of
education, healthcare and social services for
Serbs throughout Kosovo and offer the Serbian
government opportunities to cooperate in this
service system.
25. Transfer some Kosovo central institutions to
Mitrovica's central district, such as two or three
Bridging Kosovo's Mitrovica Divide
Crisis Group Europe Report N°165, 13 September 2005 Page iv
ministries and the Supreme Court, and support
establishment of a Serbian-language television
channel (RTK-2) there and facilitate its Kosovowide
26. Offer constitutional provisions that, without
conceding formal entity status, would allow Serb
areas to construct de facto autonomy, including
significant devolution of powers to municipalities;
freedom for municipalities to associate on a
voluntary basis; and the coordination and resource
role offered by the new Serb units of government
ministries established to administer education,
healthcare and social services.
Pristina/Belgrade/Brussels, 13 September 2005


Anonymous said...

the only way albos can win by stealing and lieing as usual, no shame. i cant wait for nato to leave!


Attack on Yugoslavia
Some critics have accused Clinton of leading the United States to war with Kosovo under the false pretense of genocide [9]. Others have accused him, and his administration, of inflating the number of Kosovar Albanians killed by Serbians[10]. Clinton's Secretary of Defense William Cohen, giving a speech, said, "The appalling accounts of mass killing in Kosovo and the pictures of refugees fleeing Serb oppression for their lives makes it clear that this is a fight for justice over genocide [11]." On CBS' Face the Nation Cohen claimed, "We've now seen about 100,000 military-aged men missing...They may have been murdered[12]." Clinton, citing the same figure, spoke of "at least 100,000 (Kosovar Albanians) missing[13]". Later, talking about Serbian elections, Clinton said, "they're going to have to come to grips with what Mr. Milošević ordered in Kosovo...They're going to have to decide whether they support his leadership or not; whether they think it's OK that all those tens of thousands of people were killed...[14]". Clinton also claimed, in the same press conference, that "NATO stopped deliberate, systematic efforts at ethnic cleansing and genocide[15]." Clinton even compared the events of Kosovo to the Holocaust. CNN reported, "Accusing Serbia of 'ethnic cleansing' in Kosovo similar to the genocide of Jews in World War II, an impassioned President Clinton sought Tuesday to rally public support for his decision to send U.S. forces into combat against Yugoslavia, a prospect that seemed increasingly likely with the breakdown of a diplomatic peace effort[16]." Clinton's State Department also claimed Serbian troops had committed genocide. The New York Times reported, "the Administration said evidence of 'genocide' by Serbian forces was growing to include 'abhorrent and criminal action' on a vast scale. The language was the State Department's strongest yet in denouncing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević[17]." The State Department also gave the highest estimate of dead Albanians. The New York Times reported, "On April 19, the State Department said that up to 500,000 Kosovar Albanians were missing and feared dead[18]."
However, the numbers given by Clinton and his administration have been proven false. The official NATO body count of the events in Kosovo was 2,788 (not all of them were war crimes victims)[19], with Slobodan Milošević charged with the "murders of about 600 individually identified ethnic Albanians[20]". Critics have noted that these numbers can not be considered genocide. The headline of The Wall Street Journal, which had launched an investigation into whether genocide had occurred in Kosovo, on December 31, 1999 was "War in Kosovo Was Cruel, Bitter, Savage; Genocide It Wasn't"[21]. The Wall Street Journal wrote, "the U.N.'s International War Criminal tribunal has checked the largest reported sites first, and found most to contain no more than five bodies, suggesting intimate acts of barbarity rather than mass murder... Kosovo would be easier to investigate if it had the huge killing fields some investigators were led to expect. Instead, the pattern is of scattered killings[22]."
In addition, a United Nations Court had previously ruled that Serbian troops did not commit genocide against Albanians. The court wrote "the exactions committed by Milošević's regime cannot be qualified as criminal acts of genocide, since their purpose was not the destruction of the Albanian ethnic group[23]". According to BBC, "the decision was based on the 1948 Geneva convention which defines genocide as the intent 'to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such'[24]". Milošević was not charged with genocide in Kosovo by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) but the more broader "crimes against humanity"[25]. Spanish forensic surgeon Emilio Perez Pujol, who led the Spanish forensic team in Kosovo, gave an interview to the British paper The Sunday Times. The paper wrote, "In an outspoken interview, Pujol complained he had been sent to head a large investigation team attached to the ICTY, consisting of pathologists and police specialists, to work in the north of the country. But he found that what was publicised as a search for mass graves was 'a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines, because we did not find one—not one—mass grave.'[26]".

Anonymous said...

Extract from Of War: Letters to Friends / Von den Kriegen: Briefe an Freunde, published by S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main (2004)

Kosovo, 1999

Dear friends,

I have been back for two weeks.

I do not know how to answer the questions about my time in Albania and Kosovo. The experiences are present; the images, the smell, the sound – everything is clear and yet it is impossible to transform it into an adequate and intelligible narrative of horror.

We wish to believe that we are able to defuse threats by giving them a name. Rumplestiltskin loses his power when we guess his name. But sometimes Rumplestiltskin rages even when we know what he is called. Sometimes words cannot banish feelings, and their failure only increases our sorrow.

Maybe I simply don’t know where to start.

There: in the refugee camps where the deportees were stuck, the men silently sitting on the field, smoking, covered under coloured woollen blankets; the women bent over plastic buckets, washing the only clothes they had, there: on the fields where the corpses were decaying in the sun, in the hospitals with this inimitable smell of disinfection and death, there: on the overflowing marketplaces, in the devastated mosques – there we all had the same horizon of experience. We were all stuck in this world of pain and destruction. Within this context, all these horrifying scenes made “sense.” Of course, it all seemed unreal, and yet it was simultaneously too real for us to permanently call it into question. Our conversations and gestures were embedded in this context. It was a life within the same radius of violence.

Only now, back in Berlin, now when I am about to talk about that time, does its absurdity strike me. The experiences there are somehow separated from reality here, and it feels a bit like when I was a child at my grandmother’s and we would make biscuits, cutting out shapes in the dough. Maybe that is why journalists are considered disturbed cynics: because the reality that they describe is so disturbed.

That is the burden of the witness: to remain with a feeling of failure, of emptiness because even the most accurate account does not grasp the bleakness of war.

The task

We were in Tirana when the peace agreement was signed: the Serbian delegation agreed to pull out within 48 hours after the settlement from Kosovo and to withdraw to what was left of the Yugoslav republic. The air bombardment of the NATO alliance had lasted 78 days during which they flew attacks against government buildings in Belgrade, against positions of the Serbian army in Kosovo – but also against civilian targets: bridges, factories, power stations, the television station of Belgrade and various refugee treks, “collateral damage” as the propaganda unit in Brussels would call it.

At the end of the war, we travelled with the ground troops that had been inactive so far and the thousands of Kosovo Albanian refugees returning to Kosovo.

Our team in Kosovo included our Albanian driver Kuijtim Bilali, his nephew and our translator Noni Hoxha, Joanne Mariner from the organization Human Rights Watch from New York, whom we had met in the refugee camps in Albania, the photographer Sebastian Bolesch and myself.

We remained two more weeks in the war torn Kosovo and then travelled throughout the entire region. We saw how the young men – who had been hiding in fear of the Serbian militia – returned from the mountains. We saw the famished Kosovo Albanian prisoners with sunken eyes tied together on a truck. They were supposed to be hostages from kidnappings in Serbia, but now they had been forgotten. We saw how the Kosovo Albanians celebrated the end of the repression. We saw everywhere how the Serbian units had raged: burnt down farmhouses, demolished minarets of the village mosques. We saw the mutilated corpses where the Serbian myrmidons hadn’t had time to erase the traces of their deeds and to bury their victims. We saw the Serbian troops on their withdrawal, drunk from stolen booze. But we also saw Serbian civilians fleeing out of fear of revenge. We also saw the neighbourhoods of the Roma standing in flames.

Death and destruction

Since my return people ask me: “How do you cope with what you witnessed? How do you digest all the experiences?”

The answer is: you don’t.

There are certain impressions you cannot “digest.”

The sight of a seventeen year-old girl in the hospital of Prizren in Kosovo. She had been shot by a sniper the day before the allied forces entered Kosovo. She had a brain injury and urgently needed to be transferred to the hospital in Prishtina. Since that night she had been staying in a room with five badly injured men: Serbs, KLA-fighters and Albanians, the enemies of the war united in one overheated room.

You could hear her breathe.

She would probably die within the next five hours because the hospital could not transfer her to Prishtina – the Serbian troops had stolen the only ambulance for their flight at the end of the war.

The sight of a charred back of a dead catholic Albanian between hundreds of books in his house in Koronica. The muscles in the shrunk body were still recognizable – it looked like one of those charts from biology class where all muscles of the human body are schematically displayed. Except: the man in Koronica was brown-black, his burned flesh was porous and looked hairy like scratchy fur. Arms and legs were missing. Maybe they had been cut off, maybe they were burned completely, maybe it had been the dogs...

The Homeric heroes in the Iliad have less fear of death than the thought of being left unburied – outside the city walls – at the mercy of stray dogs. It always seemed rather strange to me that a living person would have to worry about his corpse being ravaged by dogs. I could not imagine a world in which dogs would run around with human limbs in their mouths.

It was the brother of the dead who brought us to this package of withered flesh. He walked from one room to the other, in a destroyed house, and talked as if it was still intact, and as if that bundle on the floor still had anything in common with the human being he grew up with.

And one does not digest: the sight of corpses without heads, cut off body parts, contorted bodies that had been pulled behind a truck for miles (also like a quote from Homer); the sight of bloated or burned corpses, some two months old, one week, one day.

And there is this one image I cannot forget: the foot of a male body that we found in a ravine on a field near Meja. I still remember those five centimetres between the black leather shoe on his right foot and the blue cotton trouser, a peasant uniform as I would get to see in the following weeks so often when looking at dead civilians. The corpse had been lying there apparently since 27 April.

In the meantime it had rained, and it had been hot as it can be in a Yugoslav summer. And there is one particular part of the image that haunts me, a small detail: those five centimetres between the tied shoe and the seam of the trouser. Without the clothes that proved that this had once been a man, there was only five centimetres of dead, living flesh. Nothing else.

And there was this sound, very quiet, first unnoticed, and then so penetrating in its repulsiveness that no taboo, no shame could repress my hearing it: a number of parasites was eating the rest of a human being.

And I cannot forget the ten year-old girl in Gjakova who stood in front of the burned out ruins of her former house and could not say two complete, intelligible sentences. She spoke without pausing, as if her speech was making sense. She did not stutter or hesitate, she formed one incoherent sentence after the other.

Finally we understood that in this house her father, her brother, her aunt and two cousins had been killed. Her uncle and her two other brothers had been arrested by Serbian units and deported the day before the arrival of NATO troops.

She told us, her father had fallen off the roof when celebrating the long-awaited NATO intervention. He had broken his leg and could not move when the Serbian soldiers arrived at their house. They had told the girl and her mother to leave the house – and killed everyone else in it.

I cannot forget how she stood there in her pink shirt, in front of her former living room wall, slightly oblique because the floor was no longer flat. And I cannot forget that she could not speak properly, and that she occasionally only stared at us and then continued to speak. And that she did not seem upset at all.

She was quiet and calm, and only every now and then did she seem irritated – when she realised that she did not know that trick anymore, the trick that someone had taught her, years ago, in another time: how to form sentences and makes sense to others. Then she paused and suddenly felt like a stranger to herself, and then she seemed to tell herself that these words that came out of her mouth were unintelligible.

Many journalists only arrived in Albania or Macedonia when the peace agreement was signed. But we had already been acquainted with the terrible events. We had been writing since April on the refugees and their fate, we had been listening to them: how their sons and husbands had been killed, what they had done before the crises began, where they used to live, how they were expelled, how many hours they had walked till they had reached the border, when they had last seen their brother, where they were standing when a Serbian officer pulled a woman out of the refugee trek, how they had been hiding in a barn.

At the end of the war, when we entered Kosovo, we knew exactly where to go and what to expect there. We had a map of killing in our minds – even before we arrived at the places of the massacres.

But that meant that we could not relate to those tormented bodies as neutral bystanders towards anonymous corpses. But after weeks of interviewing survivors in the camps in Albania, photographer Sebastian Bolesch and I knew the story of many of the dead, we knew whether their wives or children had survived on the other side of the border.

It also meant that we could imagine the corpses before us as fathers and brothers, as peasants or writers. We could imagine their previous lives, and sometimes we knew the relatives in Albania.

Impossible to gain distance.

But it was also conciliatory: to remember the real person, the living father or brother or cousin or neighbour; to ask for their story and narrate it; to recreate in writing a world that was supposed to be destroyed; to give each of these stinking, faceless bones a name again and not to turn one’s back.


Anonymous said...

US and British officials told us that at least 100,000 were murdered in Kosovo. A year later, fewer than 3,000 bodies have been found - False figues from the Kosovo Liberation Army promulgated as fact - Brief Article
New Statesman, Sept 4, 2000 by JOHN Pilger

Save a personal copy of this article and quickly find it again with Furl.net. It's free! Save it.
After more than a year, the silence of those who wrote and broadcast the propaganda for Nato's "humanitarian war" over Kosovo remains unbroken: they who answered the Prime Minister's call to join "a great moral crusade" against a regime that was "set on a Hitler-style genocide equivalent to the extermination of the Jews during World War Two".

Something had to be done, they insisted. After all, by March last year, 500,000 Kosovar Albanians were missing, feared dead, according to the US State Department. In mid-May, the US defence secretary, William Cohen, said: "We've now seen about 100,000 military-aged men missing... They may have been murdered." Two weeks later, David Scheffer, the US ambassador at large for war crimes, increased the 100,000 figure to as many as "225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59". The British press took their cue. "Flight from genocide," said the Daily Mail. "Echoes of the Holocaust," chorused the Sun and the Mirror.

As the bombing dragged on, the facade began to crack; British television viewers were shown the ruins of trains and refugee convoys attacked by Nato aircraft, and their victims. "We have a public relations meltdown," said someone at Downing Street. On cue, the then Foreign Office minister, Geoffrey Hoon, announced that, "in more than 100 massacres", about 10,000 ethnic Albanians had been killed, adding that "the final toll may be much worse". Although inexplicably reduced from the original claims of 500,000 and 100,000, this was a substantial and utterly unsubstantiated figure.

By mid-June, with the bombardment over, international forensic teams began subjecting the province to minute examination. The American FBI arrived to investigate what was called the "largest crime scene in the FBI's forensic history". Several weeks later, having found bodies but not a single mass grave, the FBI went home. The Spanish forensic team also returned home, its leader complaining angrily that he and his colleagues had become part of "a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines, because we did not find one -- not one -- mass grave".

Continue article

At grave site after grave site, the story was similar. Reports in the western media, sourced to local people but often traced back to the Kosovo Liberation Army (as with the figures quoted above), became unbelievable. One explanation was that the Serbs had come in the night and taken the bodies away. "Where," wrote Michael Parenti in his review of the investigation, "was the evidence of mass grave sites having been disinterred? Where were the new grave sites now presumably chock-full of bodies?"

Perhaps the most significant disclosure, confirmed by the International Criminal Tribunal last October, was that the Trepca lead and zinc mines contained no bodies. Trepca was central to the drama of the "genocide" investigation: the corpses of more than 1,000 murdered Albanians were presumed hidden there, many of them disposed of in vats of hydrochloric acid, according to Nato and American officials. According to the Mirror, there was evidence of the "mass dumping of executed corpses" and "Auschwitz-style furnaces". Not a single body was found: no teeth, no remains.

Last November, the Wall Street Journal published the results of its own investigation and dismissed "the mass-grave obsession". Instead of "the huge killing fields some investigators were led to expect ... the pattern is of scattered killings [mostly] in areas where the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army had been active". The Journal concluded that "Nato stepped up its claims about Serb 'killing fields"' when it "saw a fatigued press corps drifting toward the contrarian story: civilians killed by Nato's bombs". This propaganda, said the newspaper, could be traced back to the KLA; many of the most lurid and prominently published atrocity reports attributed to refugees and other sources were untrue. "The war in Kosovo was cruel, bitter, savage," said the paper. "Genocide it wasn't." Such honesty was rare.

Nato bombed, according to George Robertson, the then defence secretary, "to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe" of mass expulsion and killing. In December, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, whose monitors were in Kosovo until just before the bombing, released its report on the war. This received almost no publicity in Britain. It confirmed that most of the crimes against the Albanian population had taken place after the bombing began: that is, they were not a cause but a consequence of the Nato campaign.

Western gravediggers have found a total of 2,788 bodies, and not all of them war crimes victims. On 7 June this year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) published a list of 3,368 missing persons whose names had been given to it by families from all communities in Kosovo, spanning January 1998 to mid-May this year. The ICRC says that a substantial number could be alive, among refugees scattered throughout Europe.

What is now beyond doubt is that the figures used by London and Washington, and by much of the media, were ludicrous inventions. The killings in Kosovo were despicable and tragic, but to equate them with genocide and the Holocaust is to mock the truth with profanity. With the exception of the Guardian, almost none of this has been reported in Britain. The Red Cross report was virtually ignored in this country. This is understandable; among the journalists who swallowed Nato's and their government's lies were the truly committed and triumphant, who wrote that "when the mass graves are opened, the opponents of this humanitarian war should apologise".

The defenceless population upon whom Nato's bombs rained down night after night, the 400 to 600 who died, blown up in crowded passenger trains and buses, in factories, television stations, libraries, old people's homes, schools and 18 hospitals, many cut to pieces by the RAF's thousands of "unaccounted for" cluster bombs which fragment into shrapnel, require an apology from the propagandists; because, as Nato's planners never tired of saying at their post-bombing seminars, without journalists "on board", they could never have pulled it off.

Robert Fisk, Britain's greatest war reporter, has called them sheep, gulled by professional manipulators. Take the bombing of the Belgrade TV headquarters and the murder of staff such as make-up ladies. Amnesty International, in a rare departure, called this "a deliberate attack on a civilian object, and as such constitutes a war crime". Shortly before the bombing, the Nato mouthpiece Jamie Shea had given a written assurance that the TV building would not be attacked.

With the media on board, Nato could go forth. At one "private preliminary review by Nato experts" of the bombing (reported in the Daily Telegraph), it was agreed that "any future operation by Nato is likelier to involve heavier, more ruthless attacks on civilian targets ..."

Having taken sides in what was a bitter but low-level civil war on the scale of Ireland in the 1970s, and having deliberately blocked a peaceful solution at the phoney Rambouillet "talks", Nato was able to finish off the west's "strategic concept" of destroying Yugoslavia - without recourse to the United Nations or international law. It was all based on a marriage of lies, thanks largely to those journalists who acted as the handmaidens of great and murderous power.

Kosovo is today, more than ever, a terror state, run by Mafia-style criminals with links to the KLA: the people who last year could call Robin Cook directly on their mobile phones.

More than 200,000 Serbs and Roma have since been driven out, with few headlines here. The Americans have built one of their biggest military bases in the world, Camp Bondsteel, which achieves a long-held strategic aim of Washington to straddle the Balkan transit routes. Stand by for their next humanitarian adventure.

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