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Monday, June 21, 1999 Published at 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK

A refugee's tragic return

Subadin hoped that somehow his son and six brothers had escaped

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen in Prizren tells the story of a traumatic homecoming for one elderly Kosovo-Albanian refugee.

Tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanians have been heading back to their towns and villages from the refugee camps, despite warnings from Nato about mines and unexploded shells.

Kosovo: Special Report
But despite bright sunshine, the homecoming has often been a traumatic one.

One farmer was on his way back to his farm, revisiting his beehives, specially painted with faces with big black moustaches.

Listen to Jeremy Bowen's report on the homecoming
The hives had sloping roofs, like hats, to protect the honey.

But the farmhouse roof was burnt out, and nobody had been around to protect farmer Subadin's son and his six brothers from the terrible, depraved rage of the Serb police who killed them.

Subadin's farmyard

The noise of a hungry dog barking sounded as if it was coming from a cellar, which Subadin said was under the ruins of a barn.

Jeremy Bowen reports on the events in Meja
We ignored the dog - not because we did not want to help the poor creature, but because it might have been chained down there to lure somebody into a booby trap.

It was nervewracking enough watching where to put your feet in Subadin's farmyard - the rubble covered mud looked like a perfect place to leave a mine.

[ image:  ]
Subadin is 68 years old, a Kosovar Albanian farmer with a neat white moustache.

It crossed my mind that the beehive faces were self portraits of the artist as a young man.

It was better to have useless, absurd thoughts like that because unless you have been turned out of your house, seen it burned and had most of your family murdered, it is not easy to imagine what's going through the mind of a man like Subadin.

Scramble to leave

We crunched across the rubble, through a gap in the wall and into an orchard where ripe mulberries were plopping on to the hard earth like rain.

[ image: Subadin showed how his family were made to kneel with their hands behind their head]
Subadin showed how his family were made to kneel with their hands behind their head
Subadin bent down to pick up some cups and saucers and a coffee pot that were scattered around.

"These are the breakfast things we were using when the Serbs kicked us out," he said.

Try to imagine what it was like to have been Subadin and his family at that moment and in the next two hours or so after their breakfast was interrupted.

I have tried and it is really very difficult.

The Serbs gave them a few minutes to pack their tractor. What would you have taken?

Subadin looks like an organised man, so I expect he grabbed some cooking pots and a tarpaulin and a few blankets.

[ image: Decomposing bodies lie where they fell]
Decomposing bodies lie where they fell
Then they joined a column of refugees that was heading for Albania. They went down a bumpy lane, passed other farms that were burning by then.

27 April, 1999

Just before the nearby village of Meja, there is a bend in the lane. They went round it and found themselves in hell.

Hundreds of Serb police and paramilitaries were lining either side of the lane. Some of them had made their faces green and black and brown with camouflage paint. They were all armed. The tractors stopped.

Try to imagine the next part. Imagine the sun is getting strong and you are sitting in a traffic jam. You are so frightened that your stomach feels like it is turning itself inside out and your mouth is so dry that when you try to whisper your tongue feels twice the size it should be and your words do not come out right.

[ image: There is evidence of the Serbs practising their markmanship]
There is evidence of the Serbs practising their markmanship
It must have been a bit like that for Subadin and the hundreds of others who were at Meja that day. It was 27 April 1999.

They sat in their tractors and they watched the Serbs organising one of the worst massacres of the war.

The police, systematically, steadily, worked their way down the line, pulling out every man and boy they thought was old enough to hold a gun, and not too old to pull the trigger. They left Subadin.

They took his son and his six brothers. The last time he saw them they were kneeling with their hands behind their heads, with lines and lines of other Kosovo Albanian men. Later they were shot.

War crimes investigators think that at least 100 men were killed and it might have been closer to 300.

Field of sorrow

Let me tell you what the bodies that still lie in that field in Meja in are like. It is hard to say how many there are. Their flesh is black and the bones are showing. They stink.

[ image: Possessions of the dead litter the field]
Possessions of the dead litter the field
They do not look human any more, except they are wearing clothes. When I see dead bodies, and in my job I have seen so many that sometimes I feel like an undertaker.

Always I find myself looking at their clothes and I think, they did not know they were going to die that day when they did up their shoe laces or when they decided to wear those socks.

I met Subadin in a field. He had rushed back to the farm as soon as Nato took over, hoping that somehow his son and his six brothers had escaped and were hiding there.

When he saw the farm was an empty ruin, he went back to Meja to the field to see where they died.

The only time he cried was when he said that his grandchildren play phone games, pretending to call their father, Subadin's son, pretending that he is alive and that one day soon he's coming home.

But then Subadin pulled himself together, and got on with the life he has left.

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