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SERB ARMY USED US AS HUMAN SHIELDS; Mirrorman ANTON ANTONOWICZ reports from Kukes on the terror of hostage Kosovars.

THERE were 534 of them. Exhausted, emaciated men who lay on the floor of the huge tent trying to control their confusion.

Serb police snatched them from a refugee convoy a month ago. They threatened to murder them in front of their families.

Instead, they forced them to serve as human shields. After that they threw them into prison.

And eventually, with no warning, they drove them to the Albanian border and ordered them out of the country.

Precisely why the Serbs decided to release the men remains a mystery.

But there, in that white canvas "sanctuary", these men yesterday became the first Kosovans to provide direct accounts of the callous use of people as Serb cannon fodder.

Bahri Muja, a 31-year-old carpenter, speaks slowly, tiredness ringing his eyes. He cries often.

He, his wife Dinore and their two boys Urim, seven, and Dashnim, three, had been walking for four days from their home in Mitrovice, in northern Kosovo, when the Serbs ordered them and some 7,000 others to return home. Halfway back, at the small town of Skandaraj, police and paramilitaries separated the men from the women and children.

"My mother was sick," explained Bahri. "She had suffered a heart attack on the road. I wanted to stay and look after her.

"But the Serbs said 'Throw her away, she'll die soon enough.'

"My son Urim clutched at my hand. 'Daddy I'll come with you,' he was crying. 'I don't want you to die alone. I want to die with you'."

Bahri added: "The police laughed as they dragged us apart.

"Next day they made us board buses and drove us to the village of Ternaic, about 11 kilometres south-west of Mitrovice, where the Serbs were fighting the Kosovo Liberation Army.

"They marched us to the front line. Then they made 50 of us join hands and go forward like a wave towards the KLA position.

"They said they would murder us all if one Serb soldier was killed in the offensive.

"Thank God the KLA saw what was going on and withdrew.

"One of the Serb officers said we made very good bullet-proof jackets.

"For the next two weeks we were herded around the area and made to surround military positions.

"We could see men, women and children at artillery sites and ammunition dumps in case of attack from the KLA or NATO.

"They took us all away for questioning. They beat us black and blue. They were enjoying it."

Then, on Saturday, the men were driven to the Albanian border and kicked out of the country.

Now Bahri is constantly tortured by his terrible memories. Of how the thugs killed his brother with a bullet in the head.

And how they boasted of slaughtering innocents in Bosnia before rampaging through Kosovo.

His ordeal may be over but the terror remains.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Antonowicz, Anton
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 24, 1999
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