TRANSITIONS ONLINE: Kosovo: One Hour of Terror
30 April 1996
On Monday, April 22, just after 9:30 p.m., a masked man with an automatic rifle burst into the Cakor restaurant in Decani and sprayed bullets at the people inside. Owner Danilo Stesevic said his restaurant is a gathering place for Serbs in that Kosovo town. He added that there were about 10 people there that night and three of them were killed. All three were refugees: Stana Radusinovic (48) moved to Decani from Albania, Blagoje Okuka (53) and Djordje Dragic (56) fled the Krajina. Branko Babic (57) another Krajina refugee was wounded. Stevisic dropped to the floor when the attack began. He told reporters that the masked man emptied his AK-47 clip (30 rounds), pulled up his mask to see the damage and fled.
Just half an hour later and 20 kilometers down the road, policemen Zoran Dasic and Safet Kocan stopped a small group of men to check their identification near the police station in Pec. Instead of ID cards the men drew automatic weapons. Luckily the two policemen were only wounded. Another policeman, Milenko Bucic (24) died of gunshot wounds at around 9:10 that night in Stimlje near Pristina. The fourth attack came about 20 minutes after the third on the Kosovska Mitrovica-Pec road when an unidentified attacker ambushed a patrol car wounding policeman Slobodan Dudic and killing prisoner Dragana Nesic (19). Her death was the last that night. The final balance was five dead and four wounded in four attacks all within one hour.
No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, and there were no fresh attacks by Wednesday night.
The Kosovo Democratic Alliance (LDK), the largest ethnic Albanian political party, issued a statement stressing "the resolve of the Albanian people to fight for their goals peacefully" and calling the population to refrain from any activity that could lead to violence. The police got back the body armor they only recently stopped wearing and "stepped up security measures". For now that means intensive patrols and frequent "routine checks" of people and vehicles. There have been no reports of repression. The restraint of the Serbs and Albanians is obvious in their approach to the attacks.
Serbia's state radio and TV reported the attacks in the 31st minute of the main evening news on January 23 through a short statement that only said "some incidents" had occurred in Kosovo in which "a certain number of people" had been killed and added that the executive committee of the Kosovo SPS committee "sharply condemns" the incidents. The regime print media also tried to calm things down: "Politika" printed a statement carried by Tanjug on page 13, while "Novosti" published their report on page 11. In both reports, the killings were blamed on Albanian secessionists but with no details of the investigation.
The reaction on the Albanian side is cautious: for now all channels, official and semi-official, are shut tight. A well-informed Albanian politician said, "the situation is so delicate we can't say anything right now". Similar answers came from most other people. To the Serbs in Kosovo the silence is harder to bear than occasional shots in the night. "How can I know what's happening if the RTS just shows Koreans, Chinese and folk singers," said Milenko Karan, a Pristina psychologist, "...Five people were killed here and they say nothing."
Unofficially, there are three interpretations of the attacks and none of them can be taken for granted just yet. The first was voiced by LDK leader Ibrahim Rugova, who told Belgian daily "Le Soir" that the killings are "a provocation by Serb extremists" while Bujar Bukosi, the ethnic Albanian prime minister in exile, told the BBC that "just because the victims are Serbs, the blame cannot automatically be Albanian." Under the second interpretation in the Belgrade tabloid press, the attacks could have been in retaliation for the killing of Albanian student Armand Daci (20) who died a day earlier in Pristina. Daci was allegedly shot from the apartment of a Serb refugee family because they thought he was trying to steal their car. Kosovo Albanians are bitter because the police seemed to show no interest in the case and they brought some 10,000 Albanian women to protest in Pristina. Those were the first mass demonstrations in Kosovo in the past two years. One of the women said the police were restrained and there were no incidents.
Advocates of the third interpretation say it's hard to believe the Albanians (who have the motive for bitterness) could organize vengeance killings just 24 hours in attacks that would make even the IRA proud.
The calmness of the killers, choice of target and the fact that all the attackers used automatic weapons in a short period of time and escaped show that the attacks and attackers were carefully prepared. If this really is an organized terrorist group then the Albanian movement in Kosovo has gotten its military wing and there will be more killing. In that case, the Milosevic authorities, with all its police, has little chance of suppressing them with repressive measures. There are a lot of places in Kosovo where the police station is the only non-Albanian building in town. In all of Kosovo now, there are fewer Serbs than there were in Serb Sarajevo and there are close to two million Albanians. That balance of forces makes it impossible to provide public safety without the consent of the local population. That consent might no longer be there.
Milosevic had to know this before Monday night and be aware of the fact that mass "activities in searching for hidden weapons" are not prevention enough against terrorism. During his climb to power and first years of his rule even harmless and sometimes construed incidents in Kosovo were termed "acts of mindless terrorism". Now when real terrorism is rearing its ugly head, the regime is confused and acts as if it would prefer to keep quiet about it.
Regardless of who's behind the attacks, their political message is clear: the time to take steps towards a political agreement between Serbs and Albanians is almost over and it's high time to start talking. If they allow the moment to pass there will be more messages of this kind and retaliation and innocent people will die.
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