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FBI Probes Kosovo Massacre Sites

June 24, 1999

DJAKOVICA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ On a terrifying morning three months ago, 10-year-old Dren Caka ran screaming from his uncle’s home, leaving behind his mother, three sisters and about 18 others who were massacred by Serb forces.

On Thursday, Italian troops sealed off the area along all-but-deserted Milos Gilic Street so FBI forensic experts could begin gathering evidence to prosecute President Slobodan Milosevic and others before the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Along the street, the burned-out houses and the putrid smell of decaying human flesh stand as mute testament to the horror visited upon the ethnic Albanians who once lived there.

At the charred ruins of the house Dren escaped from, a lock hangs on the gate. Neighbors say the burned bodies are still in the basement, evidence of one of the war’s most publicized cases of Serb atrocities.

The few who still remain on Milo Gilic Street recall how Serb forces came in the pre-dawn darkness on April 3, firing weapons, cursing loudly and kicking in the doors of ethnic Albanian homes, searching for alleged supporters of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army.

Dren’s father, Ali Caka, had left his wife and four children at his uncle’s home and gone with other men to hide elsewhere. Ali later recalled that it seemed a wise move at the time because ``the Serbs were mostly after men.″

In the basement, the Serbs found Dren and the others huddled together. By Dren’s account, they began shooting the victims, one by one, starting with a 13-year-old girl. Thinking all the victims were dead, the Serbs set fire to the house and left.

His right arm shattered by a bullet, Dren pretended he was dead. Once the Serbs were gone, he fled, leaving behind his 2-year-old sister Diona, her cries for help ringing in his ears. His limp, badly bleeding arm was too weak to carry her.

Rexhe Blakaj, 52, who lives next door, remembers the slaughter.

``I heard the screaming of the women first, and then I heard the kids crying,″ Blakaj said. ``Then I saw the smoke coming up from the basement.″

Fearing it would be his turn next, Blakaj ran out of his house to escape. He saw Dren scampering through his front yard. ``Dren was so scared he hadn’t even realized he was wounded,″ Blakaj recalled.

After passing through several courtyards, Dren reached the safety of an aunt’s house. Two days later, his uncle drove him and others to Albania, where Dren received medical treatment. He was later reunited with his father in the Albanian capital, Tirana.

After staying for weeks at the home of an Albanian benefactor, Dren and his father left a few weeks ago for Canada. Before they left, Ali told The Associated Press he hoped never to return to Milo Cilic Street.

Others were not so lucky. Mentor Deda, 30, ran away the night of the massacre, leaving behind his parents, his sister and her 5-year-old son. He returned from Albania a few days ago.

``I went back home and found my 5-year-old nephew lying dead in the front yard,″ he said. The bloodstained mattress where his nephew, Argjen Demjaha, had been sleeping that night still lay on the floor.

``I think he was first wounded and managed to go out where he died,″ Deda said, bursting into tears.

He fears the same thing happened to his parents and his sister, although their bodies have not been found. His father’s trousers, jackets and one shoe lay out in the street, covered in dust as tractors rumbled over them.

Among the rubble and burned pillars of the burned-out house across the street lay the bones of Jonuz Cana, 67, his wife and two children. Three FBI agents entered the ruins of Cana’s house and examined the bone fragments and skulls.

A few minutes later, Italian peacekeepers arrived and sealed off the street. The events of April 3 at Milo Gilic Street are listed as specific charges in the war crimes indictment against Milosevic. Dren’s sisters Diona, 6-year-old Delvina and 14-year-old Dalina, and his mother, Valbona, 34, are named in a list of victims.

``He has only one fate _ trial in The Hague,″ U.S. special ambassador for human rights, David Scheffer, told reporters. ``It may not happen soon, but it will happen.″

Back on Milos Gilic Street, Mentor Deda watched as the Italians took up positions. ``Only God was watching,″ he muttered before shuffling inside the house, carrying his father’s shoes in one hand and jacket in the other.

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