The coffins were lifted, two by two, onto trailers pulled by farm tractors. They drove in a procession to the village cemetery here, where Kosovo's Serbs committed 14 of their men--and their shattered sense of security--to the hard summer earth.
The 14 farmers buried today at a common funeral were gunned down Friday as they finished an evening's work in their fields, the bloodiest single atrocity since NATO-led peacekeepers occupied this Serbian province seven weeks ago. Five ethnic Albanians, including at least one member of the paramilitary Kosovo Liberation Army, were taken into custody today for questioning by British military police who raided their homes.
One of the five, the 63-year-old father of the KLA member, was later released. Another six men were arrested around 9 p.m. last night after a search of their car at a checkpoint outside Gracko linked them to grenade attacks in Pristina and Lipljan, a village a mile from here. Those six are also being questioned about the killings, NATO officials said.
Mourners drew cold comfort from the detentions, however, and expressed little confidence in NATO's ability to prosecute the accused or protect the province's isolated, frightened and fast-dwindling Serbian population. Only 50,000 Serbs--25 percent of Kosovo's prewar Serbian population--remain, and at least 72 have been killed since NATO entered Kosovo on June 12, according to international officials. Seventy three ethnic Albanians also have been slain.
"This was a bloody and merciless killing," said Yugoslav Deputy Foreign Minister Nebojsa Vujovic, who attended the open-air funeral outside a local school house. "Albanian separatists and terrorists are attempting to ethnically 'cleanse Kosovo' and Metohija," using the full Serbian name for the province.
Vujovic said he will reserve judgment on the detentions until he sees if the accused are brought to account. "We will judge the international community by its deeds, not by its assurances," said Vujovic, who during the service stood beside Bernard Kouchner, the U.N. representative in Kosovo who has vowed to ensure protection for the Serbs.
A spokesman for the British peacekeeping force in this area, about 10 miles south of the provincial capital, Pristina, said military police raided several houses at 5 a.m. today and held four men for questioning. A fifth man was picked up later, officials said.
The KLA, which condemned the killings, has promised to assist in the investigation, but a British official said the raids were not the result of any assistance from the militia group, which fought for Kosovo's independence from Serbia.
In the village of Hallac i Madhe, just a mile from Gracko, British military police surrounded the Baftiu family compound at dawn, according to family members. Using a specially trained dog, the British searched the compound for three hours, finding an AK-47 assault rifle as well as a grenade, before they took Ahmet Baftiu, 63, and his son Blerim, 17, to a nearby detention center where Serbian police held ethnic Albanians during NATO's 78-day air campaign against Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic.
Baftiu said Blerim has been a member of the KLA for almost a year, serving with the 121st Pastrik Brigade, but he denied that his son was involved in the killing of the Serbian farmers. Baftiu was released at 2 p.m., but his son continues to be questioned, he said.
NATO officials refused to say whom they are holding, or the ethnicity of the detainees. They insisted that those being held agreed to be questioned, an assertion the Baftiu family disputed. Baftiu also said his son still had his rifle and the grenade because the 121st Brigade was not yet scheduled to turn in its weapons under a phased 90-day demilitarization schedule agreed to by NATO and the KLA. To date, according to NATO, the KLA has turned in its heavy weapons and 30 percent of its small arms, including AK-47s.
"I guarantee that he was not involved in the shooting in Gracko," Baftiu said. Blerim's brother, Naim, added, "The KLA only operates according to orders from the command."
Resentments in this area continue to simmer. Ethnic Albanian homes around Gracko were burned during the war, and Serbian families say their neighbors, seeking revenge, are responsible for the killings.
In the village today, more than a dozen Serbian Orthodox priests, led by the head of the church, Patriarch Pavle, stood before the line of coffins and grieving families, who were surrounded by hundreds of mourners, some of whom were accompanied to the service by NATO escorts. Zoran Andzelkovic, the governor of Kosovo when it was governed directly by Belgrade before the war, said that if Serbs here had freedom of movement and did not fear for their lives, thousands of people would have attended the funeral.
Following a homily by the patriarch, a local community leader, Stevan Lalic, delivered a brief eulogy, recalling with affection the names of the dead: Momcilo Janicijevic, 53; Novica Janicijevic, 18; Mile Janicijevic, 42; Slobodan Janicijevic, 34; Sasha Cvejic, 36; Ljubisa Cvejic, 60; Radovan Zivic, 32; Jovica Zivic, 29; Stanimir Djekic, 44; Bozidar Djekic, 52; Andrija Odalovic, 32; Miodrag Depsic, 48; Milovan Jovanovic, 30; Nikola Stojanovic, 63.
Fathers. Sons. Brothers. Cousins. And neighbors.
"When a thousand years has passed we can forget this," said Patriarch Pavle, as some women moaned and others stared blankly, their hands touching the incense-blessed coffins. "But like our ancestors, what we should do is try to find the way we can live here."