The Racak Incident
by Diana Johnstone Paris, 20 January 1999
French newspaper and television reports today feature evidenc apparently ignored by U.S. media, suggesting that the "Racak massacre" so vigorously denounced by the U.S.-imposed head of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) "verifiers" mission to Kosovo, William Walker, was a setup. This coincides with reports in the German press indicating strong irritation with Walker among other OSCE members. Meanwhile, the ineffable State Department spokesman James Rubin appeared tonight on CNN for short glimpses between Clinton impeachment dronings, plodding forward amid questions from journalists even more gung-ho for NATO bombings than he and his bride Christiane Amanpour, whose love story apparently owes so much to the common anti-Serb cause. It seems the U.S. is clueless as to the doubts being cast elsewhere on the "massacre" story, and the only questions well-paid U.S. journalists could conjure up were variations on the theme, "why isn't cowardly NATO already bombing the Serbs?"
RENAUD GIRARD has covered virtually all the Yugoslav wars of disintegration on the spot for the French daily "Le Figaro". Here is my rough but accurate translation of his lead article published on January 20, 1999:
KOSOVO: OBSCURE AREAS OF A MASSACRE The images
filmed during the attack on the village of Racak
contradict the Albanians' and the OSCE's version Racak.
Did the American ambassador William Walker, chief of the
OSCE cease-fire verification mission to Kosovo, show
undue haste when, last Saturday, he publicly accused
Serbian security forces of having on the previous day
executed in cold blood some forty Albanian peasants in
the little village of Racak? The question deserves to be
raised in the light of a series of disturbing facts. In
order to understand, it is important to go through the
events of the crucial day of Friday in chronological
order. At dawn, intervention forces of the Serbian police
encircled and then attacked the village of Racak, known
as a bastion of UCK (Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA)
separatist guerrillas. The police didn't seem to have
anything to hide, since, at 8:30 a.m., they invited a
television team (two journalists of AP TV) to film the
operation. A warning was also given to the OSCE, which
sent two cars with American diplomatic licenses to the
scene. The observers spent the whole day posted on a hill
where they could watch the village. At 3 p.m., a police
communique reached the international press center in
Pristina announcing that 15 UCK "terrorists"
had been killed in combat in Racak and that a large stock
of weapons had been seized. At 3:30 p.m., the police
forces, followed by the AP TV team, left the village,
carrying with them a heavy 12.7 mm machine gun, two
automatic rifles, two rifles with telescopic sights and
some thirty Chinese-made kalashnikovs. At 4:40 p.m., a
French journalist drove through the village and met three
orange OSCE vehicles. The international observers were
chatting calmly with three middle-aged Albanians in
civilian clothes. They were looking for eventual civilian
casualties. Returning to the village at 6 p.m., the
journalist saw the observers taking away two very
slightly injured old men and two women. The observers,
who did not seem particularly worried, did not mention
-- END --
Short comment: Not entirely incomprehensible, since Belgrade is convinced that the U.S.-led "international community" is determined to frame the Serb side in order to justify NATO bombing. The hasty and virulent William Walker condemnation of the Serbs for "the most horrendous" massacre he had ever seen (and that after four years in El Salvador!), not to mention the latest in a series of fatal "captures" of Bosnian Serbs accused of war crimes, has only confirmed the view of most Serbs that they can expect only unfair condemnation, not justice, from such "investigators".
Doubts are cast on the reality of the "Racak massacre" even by LE MONDE, which for years has led the crusade against the Serbs. But Le Monde's own correspondent, Christophe Chatelot, sent the following report from Pristina:
WERE THE RACAK DEAD REALLY COLDLY MASSACRED? The version of the facts spread by the Kosovars leaves several questions unanswered. Belgrade says that the forty-five victims were UCK "terrorst, fallen during combat, but rejects any international investigation.
Isn't the Racak massacre just too perfect? New eye witness accounts gathered on Monday, January 18, by Le Monde, throw doubt on the reality of the horrible spectacle of dozens of piled up bodies of Albanians supposedly summarily executed by Serb security forces last Friday. Were the victims executed in cold blood, as UCK says, or killed in combat, as the Serbs say? According to the version gathered and broadcast by the press and the Kosovo verification mission (KVM) observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the massacre took place on January 15 in the early after-noon. "Masked" Serbian police entered the village of Racak which had been shelled all morning by Yugoslav army tanks. The broke down the doors and entered people's homes, ordering the women to stay there while they pushed the men to the edge of the village to calmly execute them with a bullet through the head, not without first having tortured and mutilated several. Some witnesses even said that the Serbs sang as they did their dirty work, before leaving the village around 3:30p.m.
The account by two journalists of Associated Press
TV television (AP TV) who filmed the police operation in
Racak contradicts this tale. When at 10 a.m. they entered
the village in the wake of a police armored vehicle, the
village was nearly deserted. They advanced through the
streets under the fire of the Kosovo Liberation Army
(UCK) fighters lying in ambush
The publicity given by the Serbian police to that operation was intense. At 10:30 a.m., it gave out its first press release. It announced that the police had "encircled the village of Racak with the aim of arresting the members of a terrorist group who killed a policeman" the previous Sunday. At 3 p.m., a first bulletin announced fifteen Albanians killed in fighting. The next day, Saturday, it welcomed the success of the operation which, it said, had resulted in the death of dozens of UCK "terrorists" and the capture of a large stock of weapons. The attempt to arrest an Albanian presumed to have murdered a Serb policemen turned into a massacre. At 5:30 p.m., the police evacuated the site under the sporadic fire of a handful of UCK fighters who continued to hold out thanks to the steep and rough terrain. In no time, the first of the Albanians who had got away come back down into the village, those who had managed to hide came out in the open and three KVM vehicles drove into the village. One hour after the police left, night fell. The next morning, the press and the KVM came to see the damage caused by the fighting. It was at this moment that, guided by the armed UCK fighters who had recaptured the village, they discovered the ditch where a score of bodies were piled up, almost exclusively men. At midday, the chief of the KVM in person, the American diplomat William Walker, arrived on the spot and declared his indignation at the atrocities committed by "the Serb police forces and the Yugoslav army". The condemnation was total, irrevocable. And yet questions remain. How could the Serb police have gathered a group of men and led them calmly toward the execution site while they were constantly under fire from UCK fighters? How could the ditch located on the edge of Racak have escaped notice by local inhabitants familiar with the surroundings who were present before nightfall? Or by the observers who were present for over two hours in this tiny village? Why so few cartridges around the corpses, so little blood in the hollow road where twenty three people are supposed to have been shot at close range with several bullets in the head? Rather, weren't the bodies of the Albanians killed in combat by the Serb police gathered into the ditch to create a horror scene which was sure to have an appalling effect on public opinion? Don't the violence and rapidity of Belgrade's reaction, which gave the chief of the KVM forty-eight hours to leave Yugoslavia, show that the Yugoslavs are sure of what they are saying? Only an international inquiry above all suspicion will make it possible to clarify these obscure points. Finnish and Belurussian legal doctors were expected to arrive in Pristina on Wednesday to attend the autopsies being carried out by Yugoslav doctors. The problem is that the Belgrade authorities have never been cooperative in this matter. Why? Whatever the conclusions of the investigators, the Racak massacre shows that the hope of soon reaching a settlement of the Kosovo crisis seems quite illusory.
END report by Christophe Chatelot, "Le Monde," dated 21 January 1999.
(Diane Johnstone was the European editor of In These Times from 1979 to1990, and press officer for the Green group in the European Parliament from 1990 to 1996. She is the author of The Politics of Euromissiles: Europe in Americas World (London/New York: Verso/Schuchken, 198?, and is currently working on a book on the former Yugoslavia.)