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Villagers Claim Serbs Moved Bodies

June 26, 1999

PUSTO SELO, Yugoslavia (AP) _ In a land littered with mass graves, this Kosovo village is an exception.

Here, the graves are empty. Villagers claim Serb police exhumed the bodies of more than 100 massacre victims to cover up their crimes.

``They spent two days digging up all the bodies,″ said Dritan Mazreku, 24, who claimed his father and uncle were among 106 boys and men executed by Serb paramilitaries on March 31. ``They loaded them on two trucks and took them away.″

Before Yugoslav troops left Kosovo and NATO-led peacekeepers moved in over the past weeks, this tiny village west of Prizren provided some of the first evidence of mass killings and other atrocities committed against ethnic Albanians.

On April 9, NATO says, surveillance planes photographed what appeared to be a line of freshly turned earth in Pusto Selo. Two days later, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea displayed the pictures at a press briefing, saying the site looked ``somewhat similar″ to aerial shots of mass graves seen during the war in Bosnia.

Those who survived the massacre recounted the events of the day when Serb paramilitaries swept through the village and rounded up about 120 men. The paramilitaries, many of whom were known personally to the ethnic Albanian villagers, then ordered the women and children to leave for Albania.

The paramilitaries separated the men into four groups of about 30 each and shot them dead on a river bank, villagers said. The youngest was 14-year-old Vlerim Fetahaj. His sports shoes still lay by the riverside more than three months later _ along with a jacket and a woolen scarf.

Thirteen men survived the massacre, although one died later.

About 200 other men, some of whom had taken refuge in Pusto Selo from other communities, managed to escape to the forest. After hiding for two days, they returned and buried the victims.

Some of the survivors escaped to Albania and told their stories to Western media.

After their accounts were published and NATO released the aerial photos, Serb troops returned on April 21, villagers said, and began exhuming the bodies and loading them on trucks.

``From a hill, we saw with binoculars about 50 men wearing yellow uniforms and face masks, while Serb police were guarding them,″ said Tahir Krasniqi, 54, one of the survivors.

Krasniqi said he escaped death because other victims fell on him, shielding his body from bullets. He believes the men in yellow uniforms were prisoners.

After two days, the Serbs left with the last of the bodies, driving off toward the town of Orahovac. Kosova Press, the news agency of the Kosovo Liberation Army, claimed the bodies were trucked to the Trepce coal mine near Kosovska Mitrovica where they were either cremated or buried deep in abandoned shafts.

Relatives of the victims are hoping that American and other Western forensic experts will find out what happened to the bodies of their loved ones and return them to their graves.

``Until that day comes, my father’s grave will remain open in the land and in my heart,″ Mazreku said.

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