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Albanians Testify in Milosevic Trial

March 4, 2002

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ A Kosovo teacher told the U.N. war crimes tribunal Monday that Slobodan Milosevic’s troops surrounded his village in 1999 _ then shelled the houses and drove residents out after NATO launched airstrikes against Yugoslavia.

Qamil Shabani said Yugoslav soldiers arrived outside Zegra in southeastern Kosovo 10 days before the NATO bombing began that March, setting up camp at a farming cooperative and digging trenches by the river.

After NATO began its bombing campaign to end Milosevic’s crackdown on ethnic Albanians in the southern Yugoslav province, the troops attacked, he said. ``The army became very angry at the NATO strikes, so they started to shell the houses,″ said the 50-year-old Shabani.

``This rage of theirs turned into retaliation against the ethnic Albanians,″ he said.

Serb paramilitaries were bused into Zegra, Shabani said, adding that he heard that a local ethnic Albanian official was killed and his daughter wounded in a shooting spree.

Within days, ethnic Albanians were ordered to leave the country and were forced into a nearby village where they were held ``like concentration camp″ internees. Their numbers there grew to 20,000, he said.

As his group later trekked south to Macedonia, they were joined by refugees from other parts of Kosovo, he said. Along the way, Serb police jeered them and took their documents.

Milosevic is on trial on 66 charges for war crimes and genocide during Yugoslavia’s violent breakup in the 1990s. The former Yugoslav president could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on any count.

The first phase of the trial involves Kosovo, where prosecutors say Serb forces under his command murdered thousands of ethnic Albanians and deported 800,000 during the 1998-99 crackdown.

Shabani was the second prosecution witness to testify Monday. Milosevic, who is defending himself at the landmark trial, is to cross-examine him Tuesday.

Earlier Monday, an ethnic Albanian judge from the southwestern city of Djakovica, Hasan Pruthi, said Serb forces set fire to the old section of the city after the NATO airstrikes began. He said his sister’s home was burned.

Cross-examining Pruthi, Milosevic blamed NATO bombs for the fires and said Serb police had fought to protect residents from rebels of the Kosovo Liberation Army, an armed ethnic Albanian group that fought Serb forces in the province. He said 898 NATO bombs fell on Djakovica alone.

Pruthi claimed that ``not a single NATO bomb″ hit any ethnic Albanian home in the city and said ethnic Albanian fire brigades were brought in to prevent Serb homes from catching fire.

Milosevic accused him of twisting the truth and asserted, as he as repeatedly since his trial began last month, that the ethnic Albanian rebels and NATO were responsible for the violence and destruction.

``What we are hearing here is an inversion of the truth, that is the red thread going through this testimony,″ Milosevic said.

He recited the names of what he said were several Serb and ethnic Albanian policemen who were killed by rebels in Djakovica, then mocked Pruthi when the witness said he knew nothing about such deaths.

``You were the judge at a local court and you say you know nothing of events that the whole town knew about,″ Milosevic said.

In his direct testimony, Pruthi said Serb troops rounded up Djakovica’s ethnic Albanians and expelled them. ``I heard with my own ears as the police yelled in the streets: ‘Go away to your own country, go to Albania, this is not your home.’ It was a sad thing,″ Pruthi said.

All but one of the 13 witnesses who have testified are ethnic Albanians.

Yugoslav forces pulled out of Kosovo in the wake of the NATO strikes, and the province is now administered by the United Nations and NATO. Milosevic was ousted in October 2000 and turned over to face trial in The Hague last June.

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