Wednesday, August 11, 1999
In Kosovo, a Destroyed Serb Village Leaves Many Clues but No Answers
By SCOTT GLOVER,
Times Staff Writer
OJNICE, Yugoslavia--In Kosovo, what happened in Dojnice is hardly unusual.
At most, 16 people were killed.
But the story of this "dead village" is significant nonetheless.
The apparent slaughter here--authorities suspect everything breathing, including the animals, was killed--didn't happen during NATO's 11-week air war against Yugoslavia. It wasn't carried out by members of a Serbian paramilitary group.
What happened, authorities say, was most likely neighbors killing neighbors.
Details are scant. What is known, according to the German military officials in charge of the sector of Kosovo where the village is located, is that sometime between late June and the first week of August, the village was burned to the ground. And amid the ashes were found the skeletal remains of five people, believed to be elderly residents.
The story of Dojnice, whose ruins were discovered by German soldiers last week, has enraged officials of the Serbian Orthodox Church. While revenge-fueled killings and the torching of Serbian homes and churches have become commonplace in Kosovo since the war ended in early June, church officials say that what appears to have happened marks the first case they are aware of in which an entire Serbian village was destroyed and its residents slain.
Church Officials Decry Lack of Protection
They also point out that the killings are believed to have taken place
well after international peacekeeping troops arrived in Kosovo--a province
of Serbia, Yugoslavia's main republic--and that they highlight the vulnerability
of Serbs in the wake of the war.
"We cannot understand how one of the rare Serb villages that remains in Kosovo was left without proper protection," said Father Sava Janic, an aide to the bishop of Kosovo.
Last Wednesday, German soldiers serving in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led peacekeeping force known as KFOR were on routine patrol in the mountains when they rolled into Dojnice and found the cinders and bones.
Officially, the 11 other people who were known to have remained in the village after the war are missing. But Lt. Col. Rainer Buske, the brigade commander in the German-controlled section of Kosovo, has little doubt about their fate.
"They were all killed. There is nobody left," Buske said. He is convinced that the remains of the others are buried in the rubble. "We will find them sooner or later," he said.
Buske said he understands the church's concern. But because he does
not know exactly when the slayings took place, he cannot say for certain
whether German troops, who were deployed in the area in mid-July, had even
Besides, he said, "KFOR simply has not the manpower to provide shelter and protection to every single Serb person or Serb town in the area."
Dojnice is--or was--a picturesque hamlet comprising a couple dozen homes on a mountainside in southern Kosovo, not far from the Albanian border. About a mile away, across a broad crevice in the mountains, sits Skorobiste, a slightly larger village made up of Bosnian Muslims and ethnic Albanians.
A single dirt road leads to both villages. From the main paved road below, it is about a six-mile climb up the twisting, rocky road to Skorobiste. Dojnice lies a mile beyond. The route between the villages is more a trail than a road--in two places, it traverses mountain streams without benefit of a bridge. The trail forges a semicircular path along the forested mountainside, where Dojnice looks directly across at its neighbor, the two villages resembling lighthouses perched on opposing cliffs above an ocean cove.
It is clear that the people of Skorobiste would have seen the flames as Dojnice burned. They may even have heard screams. Yet "there are no eyewitnesses, at least no eyewitnesses who want to talk," Buske said.
For the month or so until the soldiers happened upon the carnage, nobody said a word, according to Buske. There was not a single report from Skorobiste that something was amiss in the village next door. "In Kosovo, nobody sees anything," said Capt. Nico Werner, another German officer.
Today in Dojnice, the sweet smell of plums mixes with the sour stench
of death. Every house in the village is not only burned but destroyed.
Most of the walls have caved in, leaving only piles of rubble where the
houses once stood. The narrow footpaths from house to house are strewn
with shattered tile from fallen roofs. Family photos and keepsakes litter
the ground. In one case, someone took the time to rip a snapshot in half,
separating family members' smiling faces from their bodies.
A school workbook, filled with a first- or second-grader's attempts to form the letters B and G, lies next to one charred home--perhaps left behind by one of the grandchildren who used to visit the village on weekends. Here and there, red pieces of plastic mark the spots where the bones were found. Also here and there are the letters UCK, the Albanian initials of the Kosovo Liberation Army, scrawled on remnants of walls in what appears to be blood.
Buske said the letters prove nothing, but he does suspect the KLA or people affiliated with it of carrying out the slayings. He believes that the killers came at night and worked quickly. Everything was set ablaze, including livestock pens with animals still inside.
Few in Neighboring Village Want to Talk
Buske would not speculate about whether people were roused from their
houses, but some of the red placards marking the spots where bones were
found are outside, suggesting that they were. The colonel said it was impossible
to tell immediately from the skeletal remains how the five were killed.
The slayings are being probed by an international team of investigators,
which includes members of Scotland Yard and the German equivalent of the
In Skorobiste this week, most people reported few problems with their Serbian neighbors in Dojnice. But they also did not want to talk about the issue in detail or give their names.
A few brought up an incident earlier this summer in which a member of the KLA was shot to death, allegedly by a man who lived in Dojnice--implying that the recent killings were retaliation by members of the rebel army. One man said the Serbs had burned the village themselves.
But most of the villagers said they were saddened by what had happened--no small concession in a part of the world where the depth of ethnic hatred seems limitless.
One man went a step further.
"I am ashamed for what happened," said Ramiz Alija. Alija said the Serbs in Dojnice had guaranteed the safety of his own villagers during Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's horrifying campaign of "ethnic cleansing." "They were good neighbors," he said.
Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times.