'Can children be war criminals?'
by Abe de Vries
(Translated from
Trouw, Amsterdam daily newspaper)

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BELGRADE

"The sooner the Dutch 'Yellow Riders' leave Orahovac, the better. They're worse than the Germans," says Mirjana. "The soldiers are not so bad, but the officers are terrible'', according to Natasha. "They admit that they're only here for the Albanians, not for the Serbs,'' says Simka.

Three women from Orahovac, who until recently lived there or who have family there. This is their story, which differs substantially from the one lieutenant-colonel Tony van Loon, the commander of the Yellow Riders, has told. (Trouw, November 11). His artillery unit will soon be replaced. [See Note # 1 at end]

The women read the interview with Van Loon. In their eyes the Yellow Riders don't have even one reason to be proud of themselves. "Dear sir,'' begins an open letter from the Humanitarian Committee of Women from Orahovac, ''the fact that you turned Orahovac into a test field where the Serbs - without a possibility to leave because you pretend not to be able to give them protection - are thus forced to stay imprisoned in a ghetto - should not be something you should be proud of, nor should you leave Kosovo with a clear conscience. To keep the Serbs as prisoners this way is to deliver them to the mercy of terrorists. If this is the way to create a multi-ethnic society, than such a society existed also in Warshaw during World War Two.''

In Orahovac 2500 Serbs and 500 gypsies live a terrible life. They are packed into a few streets with only KFOR [NATO] checkpoints separating them from the extremely hostile Albanian majority in the rest of the town. They all want to leave for Serbia or Montenegro. Only one thing is keeping them in Orahovac: the fact that the Dutch don't want to guarantee their safety if they venture out of the ghetto.

The Yellow Riders say they're searching for possible war criminals amongst the Serbs. A lot of Serbian men are afraid the KLA has put their names on a secret list of suspects, so they stay where they are.

Mirjana (26), Natasha (27) and Simka (35) have difficulty believing the Serbian police really murdered hundreds of Albanian citizens in Orahovac and the surrounding villages. According to the Yellow Riders, Serbian police reservists born in the area executed perhaps some thousand Albanians in cold blood. Until now, 400 bodies have been found. Natasha: "There was a war going on. The KLA attacked the army and the police, who were not saying: 'O please, kill us.' I was in Orahovac myself when the war started. It was a psychologically unbearable situation. While NATO bombed us from the air, uniformed terrorists were everywhere in the city. In Orahovac and the villages everyday Serbs were killed.'' Mirjana: "A number of bodies that were found could belong to Serbs. Villages like Velika Hoca, Retimlje, Zociste and Opterusa were mainly inhabited by Serbs. In Retimlje alone 30 Serbs were murdered last year. Where are the bodies of the Serbs?'' Simka: "People say all kinds of things. It's because of the hatred Albanians have for the Serb police.'' Natasha: "Let's say some Serbs did commit war crimes. Do you think they'll be waiting in Orahovac for Kfor to arrest them? Those who maybe really did something wrong are long gone.'' Mirjana: "My husband was director of a municipal archive. If he hadn't left on time, he would probably also now be considered a war criminal. But he is not a nationalist. He fired some Albanians because they didn't work well.''

The women do not understand why KFOR refuses to let at least the children go. Until now only one convoy of 155 Serbs was allowed to leave town. Guarded by Dutch troops, it was attacked by a large crowd of Albanians in the vicinity of Pec. After that UNHCR, the refugee-agency of the United Nations, stopped its humanitarian evacuations in Kosovo. Natasha and Simka both tried several times to take the children of their relatives back to Serbia. Without success.

"Can children also be war criminals?'' asks Natasha. "I've cried and I've screamed'', says Simka. "But this Dutch officer just stood there and looked at me as through a mask. He didn't show any emotion. Nothing. It was just not allowed.'' Simka recently returned from a visit to Orahovac. She says the situation there is worse than a couple of weeks ago. Many times there are days without electricity, she says. The Serbs cannot buy food in Albanian shops They rely on humanitarian organizations to help them. Albanians block the road to Pristina, to stop a Russian battalion from entering the town (the Russians are scheduled to replace the Dutch), so all kinds of shortages exist.

Simka: "With winter coming, the Serbs are in panic. They're afraid everybody will forget about them. Now they can still drive to Velika Hoca, where many Serbs live, but the road is in bad condition and nobody clears up the snow. They'll be stuck.''

A visit to Orahovac is only possible with KFOR protection. Visitors have to leave the same day. The Serbs in Orahovac are allowed to use a Red Cross satellite telephone for one minute a week. According to the women, the phone is bugged. Mirjana: "The line is cut the moment someone says something negative about life in Orahovac."

Mail can be delivered to the Red Cross, but the letters are first examined by a censor. Relatives in Serbia get them with thick black lines through the text.

Since the arrival of the Dutch soldiers more than 20 Serbs from Orahovac have been kidnapped and 136 Serbian houses have been burned to the ground. One of the missing Serbs is the husband of a translator who worked for the Yellow Riders. In none of these cases have the Dutch started an investigation, let alone succeeded in bringing someone back, says Simka.

In 1998, some 50 Serbs were kidnapped. Nobody has heard from them since. She asks why the Dutch, who arrested 11 Serb war crimes suspects, have never arrested an Albanian for war crimes. The Albanian Ismet Tara is Orahovac's KLA-commander. He would be the biggest criminal. Simka: "His uncle had the reputation in 1941 of being the worst fascist in town. My uncle, who was a Partizan, told me that.'' Mirjana mentions Sebajdin Cena, her teacher at school. "My parents and I were at his wedding. My father gave him his first job. He was recognized as one of the organizers of the kidnappings last year.''

The Dutch, conclude the women, are one-sided, anti-Serb and don't do a thing to improve the situation for the Serbs in Orahovac. Natasja: "With them, every day is worse than the day before''. Mirjana: "I don't think this [Dutch Col.] Van Loon will ever sleep well again."

***

Note # 1 - The above article is second in a series by Trouw. The first consisted of an interview with Dutch KFOR (NATO) Commander Col. Tony van Loon. Excerpts from that article with comments by Simca and Natasha can be read by clicking on The Women of Orahovac Answer the Colonel or going to http://emperors-clothes.com/interviews/trouw.htm

Note # 2 - To read interviews with the women from Orahovac, click on Save the families: The women of Orahovac speak or go to http://emperors-clothes.com/misc/savethe.htm

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