Saturday, April 28, 2007

Kosovo offers U.N. envoys macabre misery tour

Flowers are laid on the graves of some of the men and boys killed by Serb forces in March 1999 in the village of Mala Krusa, April 25, 2007. Fifteen ambassadors of the United Nations will visit this Kosovo village on Saturday and the delegation from the Security Council will tour divided towns and devastated villages before weighing the merits of a Western-backed plan to give independence to the breakaway Serbian province. (Hazir Reka/Reuters)

By Matt Robinson and Shaban Buza

MALA KRUSA, Serbia (Reuters) - The long grass was freshly cut and the thin trunks of the plum trees painted white in the orchard where Qamil Shehu cheated death in March 1999.

When 15 ambassadors of the United Nations visit this Kosovo village on Saturday, 71-year-old Shehu plans to tell them how he pulled himself unhurt from under the bodies of almost the entire male population of Mala Krusa.

His will be one of many stories of loss when a delegation from the Security Council tours divided towns and devastated villages before weighing the merits of a Western-backed plan to give independence to the breakaway Serbian province.

The two-day agenda has been crafted to give equal time to the 90-percent Albanian majority and the remaining 100,000 Serbs, stoking a macabre contest over who has suffered most in the southern province.

For Shehu, the grounds for independence lie near the plum trees in the ruins of the house where he and more than 100 other men and boys were rounded up and raked with bullets.

Shehu survived by being in the corner. He lost 40 members of his extended family, including two sons. "Two of the six policemen wore masks," he said. "I think they were from here.

"After what I saw, we can never live with Serbs again. We had no rights under them. We can't be neighbors anymore."

The men were murdered a day after NATO began bombing Serbia to stop its army, police and paramilitaries from torching villages and killing civilians in a 1998-99 war with Kosovo Albanian separatist guerrillas.

Ten thousand died, and almost one million took temporary refuge in Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. The bombing ended after 78 days when Serbia capitulated and pulled its forces out.


Kosovo has been run by the U.N. since, stuck in economic and political limbo, breeding bitterness and impatience.

If the Western powers behind NATO's first "humanitarian" war have their way, this week's U.N. visit will mark the last step before the Security Council votes on a U.N. plan to give Kosovo's 2 million Albanians the independence they demand, supervised for years to come by the European Union.

But Russia, which holds a U.N. veto, refuses to fall into line, demanding more talks and branding the plan a "failure".

The U.N. ambassadors' visit was Russia's idea, to highlight the precarious plight of the Kosovo Serbs and give the lie to Western promises of a future for all in an independent Kosovo.

The delegation will visit the Serb ghetto in Orahovac near Mala Krusa, and the northern Serb village of Svinjare, which was razed to the ground by Albanian rioters in 2004. It has been rebuilt, but only a former miner and his wife have returned.

There, and in Belgrade on Thursday, they will hear of at least 100,000 Serbs who fled a wave of revenge attacks in 1999 and never returned. Thousands of displaced plan to demonstrate at the U.N.-guarded Kosovo boundary on Thursday and Friday.

Belgrade was reported to be unhappy with the initial agenda for the visit, believing it did not include enough "painful areas".

The revised timetable, Kosovo Serb political leader Nebojsa Jovic said this week, will "familiarize the Security Council mission with all the crimes committed against Serbs and the concentration-camp conditions in which they live".

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