Below are TENC’s October 1999 interviews with three Serbian women from the Kosovo town of Orahovac. They recount how, prior to the June 1999 NATO-UN takeover of Kosovo, they believed NATO’s promise that it would institute multi-ethnic harmony. They discovered too late that for NATO multi-ethnic meant rule by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
In September, TENC had published its first interview with an eye-witness to the NATO-UN Kosovo takeover: Cedomir Prlincevic, President of the Jewish community and Chief Archivist in Pristina, capital of Kosovo.
Mr. Prlincevic described how he and the rest of the small Jewish community were driven from their homes, losing everything; how the KLA terrorists stormed through the immense housing complex where his family lived, while British NATO officers and troops just stood by, watching. 
In late October 1999, Mr. Prlincevic and I addressed a mass meeting in Amsterdam. There I described what three members of the Women’s Humanitarian Committee on Orahovac had told me in phone interviews, that NATO had turned their Kosovo town, Orahovac, into a brutal prison camp for Serbs and Roma (‘Gypsies’), with the KLA as prison guards.
To neutralize the effect of this public meeting, which included members of Parliament, Colonel Tony van Loon, then commander of Dutch NATO troops in Orahovac, gave an interview to Trouw, a leading daily. He dismissed our accusations, claiming that NATO had done wonders in Orahovac, so that now, “People want to go on [with normal life], a fact I have found very positive.” 
We sent the Trouw article to the women from Orahovac and published their replies to some of Van Loon’s statements.  (Trouw then interviewed the Orahovac women as well. That, unfortunately, has not yet been translated into English.)
Below are the original Orahovac interviews. I have added some comments Emperor’s Clothes received from a Serbian diplomat who, in the summer of 1999, traveled to Orahovac in the employ of a European diplomatic service. He uses the pseudonym, ‘Zoran.’
To this day, while the Western media has written about the epidemic of gangsterism in post-1999 Kosovo, there has been little or no discussion of the day-to-day reign of terror against the remaining Serbs, many of whom are incarcerated in towns like Orahovac.
— Jared Israel
16 July 2006
The Women of Orahovac
Interviewer: Jared Israel
Translator: Peter Makara
Interview #1 – Natasha Grkovic
The first woman we interviewed was Natasha Grkovic, age 27. An Orahovac native, she studied in Belgrade until December 1998, then returned home. She was there in June 1999 when the Yugoslav Army retreated under the terms of the “peace” agreement and KFOR occupation forces arrived. (KFOR is NATO in Kosovo.)
She told us that most Serbian residents (about 3000) stayed when NATO marched in, believing there had to be some truth to NATO propaganda, hoping for the best…
* Natasha *
“Maybe a thousand or more Serbs left. Orahovac is unique in that so many did stay. That’s because we believed KFOR’s guarantees that we would be safe. When it became clear that things weren’t going to be that way, people wanted to leave but they were not allowed. In addition to the Serbs, 500 to 1000 Roma, or ‘Gypsies’, also stayed.”
Why Serbs stayed in Orahovac
* Natasha *
“From April on our telephone connections as well as Serbian radio and TV were cut off thanks to NATO bombing. We had little information about what was happening in the rest of the country. We heard that after the June Peace Agreement was signed there was a massive exodus of Serbs from [the Kosovo city of] Prizen and elsewhere but we couldn’t verify it so we wondered if it was true. Meanwhile, we were constantly being told by the Western media that our security would be guaranteed – for instance, by Voice of America, which we heard via satellite connections. They used phrases about multiethnic, multicultural society and their Democracy and promised first to disarm the KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army], then to establish their laws.
“The morning before KFOR arrived there was a meeting of their representatives with the Mayor, a Serb, plus other Serbs including the head of the winery. KFOR said that in two days or so life would return to normal. The next day our homes were burning.”
KFOR (NATO) arrives, bringing the KLA and terror
* Natasha *
“With KFOR, the KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army] came. The same day. Some of our Albanian neighbors appeared in KLA uniforms. We were horrified. Suddenly we didn’t feel safe in the mixed section of Orahovac so we moved to the Serbian part.
“As we were leaving we saw, already, Serbian houses being burned. KFOR did nothing. We complained. They said they didn’t have enough people. Soon more NATO troops arrived but the situation stayed the same for a month. Over a hundred houses were burned. And they robbed whatever they could. A few ‘Gypsy’ [Roma] houses were burned too. Twenty-five people who stayed in the mixed section were kidnapped, plus their houses were burned too.
“Slowly we realized the extent of the mistake we’d made in not leaving. Every day KFOR offered new excuses for not protecting us. They said: ‘We can’t put guards in front of every house. We can’t give every Serb an armed guard.’
“The KFOR checkpoint is close to the [Serbian] ghetto. KFOR guards the entrance and exit to this Serbian area. Plus there are barricades, which the Albanians put up. First you hit KFOR and second you hit the Albanian barricades. KFOR supplied tents for the Albanians who are sitting on those barricades. And they ran electric wiring into those tents to provide current.”
From the report from Zoran, the diplomatic aide
* Zoran *
“Albanian roadblocks outside Orahovac are [set up in] former German/Dutch fortified checkpoints. I can not imagine that Albanians could have taken control of those without [KFOR’s] tacit approval – or instigation. The organizing committee at the roadblocks is armed. Heavier weapons are kept in hundreds of tents erected around the barricades – supposedly for women and children. Muscular men in sport suits patrolling the site carry small firearms under their jackets.”
Conditions in the ghetto
* Natasha *
“We were kept in this Serb enclave. My parents can come out on the streets but that’s dangerous; two people were wounded just being outside the house. Those who have tried to escape simply disappeared.
“There is no phone service to Belgrade. The only food is from humanitarian sources. One ‘Gypsy’ tried to ship food from the Albanian to the Serbian section; some extreme Albanian group told him, ‘No food for the Serbs!’ Near the beginning we would send some Albanian kid to buy stuff for us. But the kid would be beaten up and they would tell him ‘Don’t do that again!’
“The ghetto is 500 yards, squared. Water is erratic: once in three days for two or three hours.
“During the first days there were lots of reporters. Later there were fewer; I spoke to a Reuters’ journalist twice. The second time he said the first interview had been all censored and crossed out.”
* More from Zoran *
“In the first days after KFOR’s arrival, five Orahovac Serbs were killed and ten abducted under the watchful eyes of German troops. Serbs aren’t even allowed to go to the market or grocery store 50 meters away. The considerable Gypsy population, together with the Serbs, suffers equally.”
* Natasha *
“The only thing that KFOR did was organize a shipment of bread to the Serbian part. They were very proud of it. We only see KFOR in the street; there are no meetings. The Albanians are in charge. They took everything. You occasionally have small KFOR patrols but Headquarters is in the Albanian section.”
* Zoran *
“In Orahovac itself the former police station has been turned into a KLA HQ. The local KLA commander, the man who runs this town, is a mass murderer named Ismet Hara, responsible for last year’s abductions and brutal killings of over 60 Serbian civilians from Orahovac (the bodies of most are still missing), some of whom – it is reasonably believed – he personally executed.
“Serbs say they recognize many local Albanians in the ranks of the German KFOR. Probably KLA members recruited in Albania…KFOR denies this…I’ve personally seen KLA Commanders with their escort – all [illegally] armed – entering KFOR bases with KFOR ID cards and never a delay.”
De-fanging the victim
* Zoran *
“Early in the KFOR/KLA occupation, Dutch/German Baklava Units gave local Serbs 24 hours to hand in all their weapons. (Note that the KLA has been given 3 months and still counting….) The naïve Serbs complied. A few weeks later, the Dutch/German troops entered the Serbian quarter in broad daylight, fired some warning shots over the heads of Serbs who were gathered near a church and dragged people from their houses. Serbian witnesses say they grabbed people by the hair and pulled them out while kicking them…
“The Dutch/German troops arrested the Serbian Mayor and two other Serbs, accusing them of ‘war crimes’. There is no credible evidence to support these charges, though the Albanian side has spread rumors that documents discovered in a cellar of one house implicated the Mayor.”
[I asked Natasha about Zoran’s remarks. -JI]
* Natasha *
“Yes, that arrest was spectacular, just like that. I heard that KFOR had masks. They arrested the doctor and the Mayor [and a restaurant owner.] They accused them of war crimes.
“Nine people were seized altogether. The second group of six was just ordinary people. They had been working with the International Red Cross, which wants to evacuate old and sick people. The six were told they could leave. Then KFOR arrested them at the checkpoint.”
* Zoran *
“From reliable international sources I learned the arrests are an attempt to turn these people into ‘important witnesses’ in a made-up war crimes case against Serbs, not because of real evidence.
“Here’s the strategy: first they isolate the Serbs, then they wear them out, then they kick them out – after extracting the people Albanians accuse of being ‘war criminals’. To this end, they come up with all kinds of justifications for keeping the last remaining Serb civilians in this monstrous new ghetto.”
* Natasha *
“The people who left the mixed part of the town that first day didn’t have time to take any luggage or personal belongings. Not even personal documents. A lower level German officer who was friendly and kind did provide us with an armed escort [so we could get some basic necessities] and even helped with luggage. But soon after that he disappeared; we [Serbs] never saw him again.
“In another case a common Dutch soldier saw an Albanian coming from a burning house. The Dutch soldier wanted to shoot at the arsonist but his officer stopped him, and they quarreled. We didn’t see that soldier later either. Their practice in general was that they would change the people who patrol the Serbian area with the intention obviously that these people not get friendly with the Serbs.
* Natasha *
“In another case a Serbian woman was about to deliver. She wanted to go to the maternity ward in the Orahovac hospital. Ever since KFOR’s arrival, Albanians comprise the entire staff at this hospital. She got a KFOR escort and was taken to this local hospital; they said it would be a difficult delivery and to go to the larger town, Prizen. KFOR provided escort to Prizen. The delivery was difficult and in front of KFOR the hospital staff said that she should stay for at least 24 hours but as soon as KFOR had left, they kicked her out into the corridor. So she spent the night on a bench with the new baby.”
[Natasha then recounted that after KFOR finally brought this woman and her baby back to Orahovac, a relative protested to a Dutch commanding officer over her treatment. The officer replied: “She’s alive isn’t she? Why complain?”]
Natasha travels to Orahovac in a convoy
In August 1999, Natasha fled from Orahovac to Belgrade. There she and other women with relatives in Orahovac pressed the Yugoslav government to intervene. The government negotiated with KFOR for two convoys of women to go to Orahovac with KFOR escort.
Natasha went on the second trip. After a brief visit to relatives in Orahovac, the women met at the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Serbian ghetto so that KFOR could take them back to the checkpoint.
* Natasha *
“I was there visiting my parents for three hours after a whole night of traveling and harassment: more time [spent] at KFOR’s checkpoint then with my family. After the visit a crowd gathered at the church. They wanted their children to leave Orahovac. KFOR didn’t want a scene so they let us get on the truck with the children. It was quite crowded.
“Back at the checkpoint, they divided us women from the children. They made a list of the people who came in with the convoy, and they said those people could leave but the children had to go back [to Orahovac].”
Bureaucrats, terror and snakes.
* Natasha *
“The children started crying; they wanted to go with us. We tried to convince KFOR to let the children go; they said if one “extra” person leaves they would not provide an [armed] escort.
“And already Albanians were gathering around, kind of watching what was happening. And it was getting dark.
“The trick was that the KFOR would bring us back only to our bus and from there on it would be completely unsafe.
“The whole scene was one of horror, the children crying, us women trying to convince KFOR. The Dutch commander shouted:
‘ENOUGH! Just those who came should go back on the truck and the children must go back where they came.’
So there was more crying and the women were crying and shouting, and he screamed: ‘ENOUGH!’ The children were forced to go back.”
Interview #2 – Mirjana
Mirjana, whom we interviewed second, said the women went next to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. Six women met with a Mr. Ivancev. (Mirjana was not sure how to spell his name.) Ivancev was an assistant to Bernard Kouchner, head of UN operations in Kosovo, appointed by Kofi Anan.
* Mirjana *
“We told him that this really felt like a concentration camp and that this should happen at the gate to the 21st century was astonishing. Each told her story separately. He said he didn’t know too much about Serbs in Orahovac; he was at that duty only a month and a half. We told him it’s actually a humanitarian catastrophe. He was apologetic.
“He wrote down all we said. He said he’d be talking to Mr. Kouchner in the afternoon and would then contact us. We gave him our mobile phone number and told him where we were staying. He promised to call.
“He did respect his word and called about 5 or 6. He talked to our translator Aleksander and apologized because it was Tuesday and he couldn’t go before Friday. We agreed to meet him Friday noontime at the Turkish checkpoint [at or near Pristina].
[Natasha reported that a Yugoslav representative in Pristina, Mr. Tomovich, negotiated with KFOR for an armed escort as well as the presence of a doctor and medical supplies on the trip. – JI]
Conditions in Prisitna, Capital of Kosovo Province
* Mirjana *
“We stayed in the Serb-run ‘Center for Peace and Tolerance’. The conditions were quite awful. We didn’t have a place to sleep. We didn’t have water, [electrical] current or food. It was really quite difficult but we kept in our minds the conditions of our families in Orahovac so we were just waiting for this Friday to come so we could go and see our families again and try and help our families.
“Right across from the Center were food stores. But we couldn’t cross the street and buy because we were Serbs. So we gave the soldiers money to go buy stuff for us. Our translators or these soldiers would cross the street and buy apples or something.”
KFOR changes its mind
* Mirjana *
“Four in the morning the water came and we quickly [washed and] got ready. 9:30 in the morning we got out in the yard to wait for KFOR escort. Two Yugoslav representatives waited with us. But the escort did not come. Ten in the morning came; eleven came; 11:30. We were losing hope that we’d be able to get to the Turkish checkpoint at noon. Our representative [name unintelligible] said it seemed that the German KFOR troops [in command at Orahovac] were now demanding a signed permission by the International Red Cross for us to get to Orahovac.
“We saw that something had failed. So we said to a British Captain, he was in uniform, ‘Give us an escort; let’s go now!’
“So that guy, whom we would be able to recognize now among a million NATO troops, went to KFOR headquarters. And he came back and asked, ‘Could you perhaps go to Orahovac tomorrow but without an escort and without a translator; and if you agree, you must respect whatever orders the German command there in Orahovac gives you.’ It would be just us without an escort. Just the women, without even the doctor. We were to come at 8 AM and strictly obey the German command.
“So we said even that way we would go but we wanted a written document where the conditions would be spelled out. This British officer said: no written document. We insisted. He said no.
“Another night was coming. When it was obvious that these negotiations would fail, we said, ‘All right, give us an escort so we can go back to the rest of Serbia.’ Immediately he said OK; in 45 minutes we would get an escort.
“You see we had insisted a document exist so that in case we disappeared there would at least be a record. The bus we were using was from Serbia, with large Cyrillic letters. So it really sounded like that, that we would disappear. They could spin the story this way: they had tried to arrange a trip that was guarded but the women insisted on going on their own against KFOR’s wishes and then this terribly regrettable thing happened. Due to the Albanians’ desire for revenge against the Serbian oppressors, etc., etc. It was so transparent that even a little child could see through it. We had hoped that on this trip we would find some good people among the occupation forces, that there could be some good people but we saw that there are none.”
Interview #3 – Simca Kazazic
Simca Kazazic has lived in Belgrade for many years but maintained close ties with family and friends in Orahovac, calling and visiting frequently.
* Simca *
“Until the ninth of April [1999, two weeks after the bombing started] I had phone contact. After that I was just guessing. The connection between Belgrade and Pristina worked almost all the time but in this Metohija area, going towards Albania, the phone lines were down. During the bombing our contact was through the mail; it took 20 days, sometimes a month, but we kept in touch. You have to understand that since June  we’ve been pressuring the Yugoslav government to organize some visit there.”
Simca was one of two women who took part in the first jounrey back to Orahovac
* Simca *
“On this trip there were just two women from Orahovac. I was one. We had three large trucks with humanitarian supplies. When we got to the Dutch checkpoint in Orahovac the Dutch officer said one of the trucks could proceed into the Serbian area but that we, the two women, could not. They would unload the truck to see what was on it and then they would let in the second truck.
“I was afraid I would not be able to see my relatives at all. I started to cry and I begged one of the soldiers: “Please. Please.” And he just waved his hand as if to say, “Go back to the group, go back to the others.”
“Suddenly I saw this man nearby, a civilian; he was my Serbian neighbor and I was surprised. His face is maybe similar to an Albanian. I said, ‘How come you can roam around?’ ‘And he said, ‘Oh, they’re confused; they think I’m an Albanian.’ So he was free and I said, ‘Look, please don’t tell my mother I’m here.’ My mother has a heart problem. I didn’t want my neighbor to tell her that I’m there and then if I’m not able to see them she might get sick.’
“When Albanians go through this checkpoint they’re not even stopped. They just wave and KFOR waves back; it’s just us that are stopped. Albanians clap their hands and shout ‘NA –TO! NA – TO!’ And the Dutch people are very friendly towards the Albanians.
“This neighbor of mine did not listen to my advice. He went and told my family. And suddenly I saw my brother and sister walking towards me. The Dutch soldiers immediately formed themselves into a row and put up a barbed wire barricade. So it was I, then these soldiers, then this barbed wire, and then my brother and sister on the other side. I was crying on one side of the barricade and my brother and sister were crying on the other side.”
[Simca wept as she spoke to us.]
“I knelt down and begged him in English, ‘This is my brother and my sister, please help me.’ And he just waved his hands, saying, ‘Nein, Nein.’
Note from Jared Israel…
The use here of the word “Nein” confused me and the following exchange took place between me, Simca and Emperor’s Clothes editor Petar Makara, who was translating:
Jared: “Is that the Dutch word for ‘No?’ That’s not a Dutch word.”
Simca: “I thought if I addressed him in English he would answer in English but no, he said, ‘Nein Nein’. “
Jared: “But that’s a German word.”
Simca: “I understand the difference.”
Jared: “But he was Dutch!”
Petar Makara: “She knows that. That’s her point.”
* Simca *
“Then this ‘friend’ of ours, this Dutch Major appeared, and I told him this was my brother and sister. He showed some mercy and told the soldiers that these two, my brother and sister, could pass through. So I was able to hug my brother and sister.
“My brother does not show his emotions. I didn’t see him cry at my father’s funeral. But when he came and hugged me he cried too. It was terrible. The other people heard that someone had come from Belgrade and suddenly all of them were walking towards the checkpoint en masse though it was not a safe thing to do.
“Once he saw so many people coming, this friend of ours, this Dutch Major, decided that maybe there would be an incident so perhaps it would be better to let the women in. So we got in. It’s difficult to put in words what happened. People surrounded us asking us questions: ‘What’s happening?’ ‘Are we forgotten?’ ‘How can we get out?’ Questions and tears and worries.
“My mother was just 15 yards away but she couldn’t reach me because there was such a crowd. They looked at us as if we’d come from another planet, as if we were Gods, desperate to touch us and ask us questions. These people don’t get newspapers; they don’t get TV; the telephones don’t work.
“This Major, I was begging him to let my sister and her little children out. And he said: ‘No! Only those who came in can get out.'”
Simca talks about KFOR’s search techniques
* Simca *
“The procedure for getting in was astonishing. They photographed our ID documents. A woman searched me. I had to lift my arms and spread my legs and she was touching me everywhere as if she was looking for weapons. Just like in the movies. I felt bad before and I felt horrible afterwards.
“First they look at the car, they look under the seats of the car, they look around and inside. They photograph the documents. Then they do this search with their hands around your body and then they do that to the next person and they tell you to stay aside while they do that to the next person. I had taken cookies and chocolate for my sister’s children and they crushed it up and turned it over and inside out.
[Simca was only allowed two and a half hours visiting in Orahovac.]
* Simca *
“As we were getting ready to leave suddenly there was a number of young people, boys and girls, who were all packed. They appeared immediately with suitcases; the same thing happened with the second convoy. I didn’t spend much time with my mother; I have to admit that. I was concentrating all my effort on how I could save my sister and her young children. The youngest is two.
“When we were leaving they made sure to keep people separated. There were the two of us, then a row of soldiers, then the barbed wire, another row of soldiers on the other side. Then the German police, with red berets made another wall. We were to leave at 5:30 but it took until 10:30. The problem was that three young girls slipped through the lines and got into the jeep of a journalist who was with us. This journalist fiercely quarreled with KFOR, demanding that the girls be allowed to go.
“There were more and more people coming from the Serbian section to the checkpoint. This journalist said he wouldn’t let these girls be taken from the jeep; KFOR would have to shoot him. So the Major, seeing all these people and fearing trouble after this long quarrel, let the jeep leave with the three young girls. He was very angry. He said, “OK, you can leave. But you have not respected the Rules agreed on for this visit!”
In a later interview, October 31, Simca recounted another conversation with Mr. Ivancev, the Russian assistant to UN Kosovo Chief Kouchner, which took place October 29. Ivancev told her they were holding the Serbs hostage in Orahovac because the Albanians had given KFOR a list of 200 war criminals.
* Simca *
“Mr. Ivancev [Kouchner’s assistant] said, ‘The war criminals are hiding among the Serbs.’
I asked him, ‘Then what about the children? Why have you refused to release the children for four months?’
He looked miserable.
‘That’s the question I asked Mr. Kouchner,’ he said.
And he looked so miserable I almost felt sorry for him.”
 See Driven from Kosovo, Jewish leader Cedomir Prlincevic’s account of the forced eviction of his family and virtually everyone else from their housing development in Pristina, following the UN-NATO takeover of Kosovo
Originally published on 2003-12-09
Source: Emperor’s Clothes
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