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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 10:08 GMT
Racak massacre haunts Milosevic trial
Investigators at the scene of Racak massacre
Many bodies bore signs of mutilation
Jon Silverman

Of all the charges against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the first crime most likely to be dealt with in detail is the massacre at the village of Racak.

On 15 January 1999 about 45 Albanians were murdered by Serb forces in the village.
I fled down the path and bullets passed through my jacket. The two companions with me were both killed

Eyewitness Rame Shabani
Racak remains one of those timeless places which looks and feels much as it did hundreds of years ago.

Horse-drawn carts lumber down the potholed roads, and donkeys are still used to pull firewood.

The houses hug a hillside but it is the installation on an overlooking hill which catches the eye.

Brutal murders

It is an OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) monitoring post and it takes a moment or two to realise that the brutal murders took place under its watchful gaze.

Former chief of the OSCE mission in Kosovo William Walker at the scene of the massacre
The massacre took place despite the presence of international monitors

Indeed, the OSCE will give evidence about Racak at Mr Milosevic's trial in The Hague.

The presence of a BBC crew naturally attracts interest and a 35-year-old man called Rame Shabani emerges from the throng to tell his story.

The Serbs began by shelling the village at dawn. Later in the morning, they stormed in and rounded up a group of some 40 men and youths, he says.

Most were badly beaten and Rame watched as they were herded along a steep path towards a gully.

" I was smoking a cigarette when the Serbs opened fire," he said.

"I fled down the path and bullets passed through my jacket. The two companions with me were both killed."

He lost his brother and 11 cousins that day.

Tangled bodies

He brandishes a colour photograph from a German news magazine, as though the story is too horrific to take in without evidence.

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic
Prosecutors must convince the court that Mr Milosevic was responsible for Racak

The picture shows a gully filled with a mass of tangled bodies, with limbs of many bodies distorted.

There is blood everywhere and many of the corpses bear signs of mutilation.

One of the victims was 31-year-old Skender Halili, whose father, Syl, ushers us into his house and talks of hiding in an attic while the Serbs went about their gruesome business.

He has been to The Hague to make statements and is prepared to go again if called.

The Serbs claim that Racak was a base for fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army.

But at the trial in The Hague, Mr Milosevic showed a German TV report which cast doubt on the 1999 massacre. The report alleged that the bodies were placed to implicate the Serbs and to justify Western intervention.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Alan Little
"From the beginning, Milosevic has turned the court on its head"
The BBC's Jon Silverman
"No trial since Nuremberg... has been charged with more significance"

At The Hague

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See also:

20 Feb 03 | Europe
08 Feb 02 | Europe
15 Jan 00 | Europe
22 Jun 01 | Europe
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