Returned Refugees Mourn for Relatives |
By Daniel Williams
POKLEK, Yugoslavia, June 17 Relatives returned for the first time today to the burned house here where 50 men, women and children apparently were killed on April 17, their bodies later incinerated by Serbian police. Weeping and wailing in outrage, they guarded the spot and awaited the arrival of war crimes investigators.
As at other sites of atrocities in Kosovo, there are no signs of a battle in Poklek. The walls are not pockmarked by bullets. Instead, the destruction seems contained in places where civilians were gathered.
On April 17, that place was the walled residential compound of Hilmi Muqoli. Inside were more than 50 people, including Muqoli's wife, five of his children and numerous members of his extended family. Muqoli was in the mountains fighting for the Kosovo Liberation Army. It appears that the house was targeted because he had joined the rebels.
According to a witness, four soldiers pulled aside Muqoli's brother Sinan and another man, Imer Elshami. They executed them in a shed, burned the bodies and dumped the remains into a well. Then they returned to the house where the others had gathered in a first-floor room. One of the men threw a grenade into the room, the lone survivor said.
"I was wounded in the ankle," said Elhame Muqoli, 17, who is Hilmi Muqoli's daughter. "I fell and crawled to the door. I ran upstairs. Soon I heard a second explosion, and I jumped out the window."
Over the next two days, police burned the building twice. It was not enough. Today, a puddle of blood kept moist by water stands in the basement, a stain on the ceiling showing where it oozed from the room where the victims died. In the room upstairs, charred watches, earrings, bracelets and clothes were on the floor. Villagers and guerrillas who infiltrated Poklek buried the dead three days after the massacre.
"I never imagined this could happen," said Hilmi Muqoli, who returned from the mountains. "This was not war on our army, this was just the madness of a dog."
While the Poklek incident appears to be the first major massacre uncovered in this part of Kosovo, the vicinity is dotted with house after house where ethnic Albanian civilians including the elderly were shot to death. In many cases, residents said, police were commanded by the same white-haired, obese officer whom they called "The Dog."
At Komorane, just a few miles south, farmer Isak Brahimi covered the bodies of three victims with a plastic sheet. One, his brother Bajram Brahimi, had stayed alone in their house when the rest of the family fled to nearby mountains two weeks ago. Four days later, Yugoslav troops arrived, entered the rustic home and shot him as he sat on a yellow sofa. A pool of dried blood stains the cushions. Two elderly neighbors apparently entered the courtyard and were shot dead.
Only today did the Brahimi family return to find the blackened corpses. A neighbor who heard the shooting from afar said he spied three men in the dull green uniform of Yugoslav reservists leaving the compound.
No more than 100 yards north, another family was still in tears over a victim, Shehide Curi, who was shot in the heart by a sniper on May 28 as she called for her children.
The family said the house had been visited several times by abusive police, who came drunk and demanded money and, on one occasion, women. "We once tried to leave, but police told us to stay. I think they wanted us between them and the KLA. Now, we have seven motherless children," said Zize Curi, a grandmother, who rocked an 18-month-old boy into his nap.
In the neighboring house, 200 yards across an open field, four policemen arrived on May 9 and told the 12 members of the extended family to go inside the house for two hours except for Musa Seniko. After hearing six shots the family emerged to find Seniko dead, lying face down by a gray concrete wall.
In the view of people in this valley, civilian killings were carried out in the name of Serbs in Kosovo, and therefore all should leave. "None of them cared. Many wanted it. I am glad to see the civilians leave, and it's better if they never come back," said Hilmi Muqoli.
© 1999 The Washington Post Company