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Wednesday, April 28, 1999 Published at 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK

World: Europe

Documentary uncovers Kosovo's horrors

Selami Helshani: Escaped being burned alive under corpses

  Watch the Panorama special report

Contains disturbing scenes of war casualties

In one of the fullest accounts to emerge so far of the situation inside Kosovo, survivors and witnesses paint a detailed picture of systematic ethnic cleansing by Serb forces and mass executions in villages across the province.

Kosovo: Special Report
In a special investigation, the BBC's flagship current affairs programme Panorama reveals the details of a planned operation to empty Kosovo villages and force ethnic Albanians to leave their homes at the point of a gun.

The Panorama team, which spent two weeks among refugees in Albania, interviewed survivors of massacres and other refugees who say they witnessed roadside executions of young Kosovo men.

The programme also examines evidence that the ethnic cleansing was planned before the start of Nato's bombing of Yugoslavia, which came after attempts failed to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict between Belgrade and the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Survivors speak

In interviews with the programme, survivors tell of mass executions in villages across the province.

One interviewee said that he lost 13 members of his family in killings at Bella Cerka between 25 and 27 March.

Another tells how men were shot and their bodies burnt with petrol in Krusa-e-Mahde, a report that corroborates video evidence passed to the BBC in early April.

[ image: Operation Horseshoe: Believed planned before Rambouillet talks]
Operation Horseshoe: Believed planned before Rambouillet talks
Selami Helshami told how he survived by lying below the body of another man after a mass shooting and then crawling to safety as Serb forces set the pile alight.

"I began searching the neighbourhood houses in the hope of finding someone who was still alive," he said.

"But there were only dead bodies, they had been executed. Some of them were headless, the others had only their head left."

Mr Helshani, smuggled out of Kosovo under blankets on a tractor carrying women, children and old people added: "God wanted people like me to be saved so that we can tell the world about what happened.

"Had I not survived, no one would have known anything about those people, not their names, not anything.

'Heart of darkness'

The programme reports that Yugoslav forces were massing artillery around Kosovo as the Rambouillet talks took place - supporting evidence of a suspected plan named "Operation Horseshoe".

[ image: Louise Arbour:
Louise Arbour: "Indictment must not be an end in itself"
The investigation describes various phases to the suspected operation, including massacres in villages around the Djakovica region and the systematic removal of Kosovo Albanians from the western town of Pec.

Panorama also recounts how Yugoslav forces entered Djakovica on 28 March and ordered ethnic Albanians from the town, an important cultural centre.

One former International monitor, a Kosovo Albanian woman, tells the programme that Serb forces entered house after house and told residents at knifepoint that they had three minutes to leave.

Describing what happened in the town as the "heart of darkness", she reports that around 100 men were later separated from the women and shot in front of their families.

War crimes

Speaking in the programme, the UN's chief war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour says that amnesty or immunity from prosecution should not be an option for Serb leaders.

"Amnesty should never become a political option," says the Judge.

"I am very concerned that indictments do not become an end in themselves. An indictment is not the end, it is the beginning of that process.

"It has to be followed by arrest and trial."

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