Le Monde: "The [Serbian] police congratulated themselves for the success of an operation"

The Racak controversy

by Joseph Green
(from Communist Voice #21, August 15, 1999)


. To this day, the Milosevic government denies its atrocities in Kosovo. Its defenders deny every massacre that has occurred, or explain them away as justified because the Serbian forces were only killing "terrorists" or separatist sympathizers. An important example is the Racak massacre of January this year. Here the Serbian military forces surrounded a village and slaughtered several dozen inhabitants. It was a signal that the expected spring offensive of the Serbian military had come early; after Racak there was an increasing tempo of attacks on Albanian villages and even town.

. Below is an excerpt from an exchange about Racak that occurred on a left Internet mailing list in January this year. Since then, the international (Finnish) team of forensic experts led by Dr. Helen Ranta issued its report, condemning what happened at Racak as a "crime against humanity". It showed that, as far as could be determined by medical evidence, the Albanian story was correct. In his article in the Spring-Summer 1999 issue of Covert Action Quarterly Gregory Elich claims that "forensic tests" show that the victims had been engaged in combat. This is a lie. If you check his references, it turns out that he either refers to newspaper stories that appeared before the medical findings, or to the fabricated reports produced to please Milosevic and company.

. But the discussion below indicates that, even if one accepts the Serbian account, what took place at Racak was a cold-blooded massacre, just like those in a typical imperialist counter-insurgency war. When Covert Action Quarterly, WWP, and other sources defend such actions, it shows that their only objection to imperialist atrocities is which imperialist commits them.

. (The exchange below between myself and WWP's Greg Butterfield is reprinted using a similar form to how it appeared on the mailing list, in which it is customary to reproduce in one's reply the statement one is answering, with ">'s" in the margin to indicate that the statement is being quoted.)

From: "Joseph Green" <comvoice@flash.net>
Date sent: Mon, 25 Jan 1999 01:10:26 +0000
Subject: Re: L-I: Kosovo: Le Monde casts doubt on Walker's story

. Greg Butterfield doubts there was a massacre at Racak and cites a story in the French newspaper Le Monde. This story tries to pick at contradictions in the story of the Racak massacre. This story, however, has its own contradictions. It ends with the puzzle of why the Serbian authorities fear an investigation: if the Serbian government's account is really true and verified by TV film, what did they have to fear?

. There are other contradictions in Le Monde's account. For example, on one hand, the Serbian police claim they were just looking to arrest a single "murderer". On the other hand, they had planned out an entire military operation against a village and proudly claimed to have killed "dozens" of "KLA terrorists".

. But let's look it at from another angle. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Le Mondestory is basically true. What it says is that the Serbian police and armed forces believed that Racak was a KLA village, where everyone left in the village was KLA. Therefore, in a carefully planned attack, they surrounded the village, shelled it at dawn, forced most of the people to flee into the woods, and then mowed the people down in a crossfire. This is supposed to be justified because the villagers shot back. And there seems to be a note of pride in an operation well-done. That's the official story from the Serbian police, which is the basis for the Le Monde account. It puts the best possible light on the Serbian operation, which more likely was an outright massacre of civilians, particularly as most of the victims were shot at short range in the head and sometimes from the back. But taking the Serbian police story at face value, how does it differ from what the American imperialist troops did in Vietnam's famous "Iron Triangle"?

. The American aggressors claimed that the villages in the "Iron Triangle" were "Vietcong" strongholds, which they were. (The American press always talked of "Vietcong", as the Serbian government always talks of Albanian "terrorists".)

. The Americans claimed that they came under fire when their troops sought to enter villages in the Iron Triangle, which was also true.

. Therefore, the American imperialists claimed they were justified in destroying villages, in shooting down whoever moved, etc. One famous statement, concerning a town whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, was that "we had to destroy the (village) in order to save it". At the time, I and other anti- war protesters thought that these operations in the "Iron Triangle" were fascistic, blood-thirsty, and genocidal. We also believed that if the American troops were meeting this sort of opposition in the villages, this verified our view that the U.S. should get out of Vietnam. If the people opposed the U.S. presence, this didn't justify slaughtering them, but meant that the U.S. was engaged in a war against the Vietnamese people..

. Yet time moves on, and now there are "leftists" who apparently believe rationales similar to those used by the American military. Isn't the justification in the Le Monde article for the Racak operation the same as the justification for American tactics in Vietnam? And doesn't Greg Butterfield think that Racak wasn't a massacre if it occurred the way the Le Monde story indicates?

. To kill villagers trapped after they flee the armed invasion of their village, that's OK. That's supposedly legitimate punishment of "terrorists". To shell a small village, that's supposedly an ordinary part of a legitimate police raid to enforce the criminal law. If previous Serbian operations forced most of the inhabitants to flee, that's not a sign that the Serbian armed forces are fighting the local population. Oh no, it's just supposed to make further attacks on Racak even more legitimate. What else can "terrorists" expect to see in the villages they come from?

. The account by the Serb police of what happened at Racak is really cynical and frightening. If the Serbian police think that their account justifies what they did at Racak, it means that they are willing to perform this operation on one Albanian village after another: shell it, enter it in force, attack the people who have fled, and boast about the body count of "terrorists". <>

Greg Butterfield wrote:

> Le Monde casts doubts on Walker's story
> On Jan. 21, the French newspaper Le Monde ran an article
> by its Kosovo correspondent that cast doubts on the Jan. 18
> massacre story spread by > U.S. agent William Walker and his
> observers. Le Monde reports that the Serbian police operation
> was seen the entire time by international > observers,
> it took place in a mountain village that was almost entirely
> composed of KLA combatants, and the absence of both blood
> and shells around the bodies made it likely they were killed in
> combat elsewhere and then gathered by the KLA for
> propaganda use. Following is a> translation of that story:

> Thursday Jan. 21, 1999
> The Racak dead: Were they truly massacred in cold blood?
> The version of the facts spread by the Kosovars leave many
> questions. Belgrade says the 24 victims were KLA
> "terrorists,"\ fallen in the course of a battle, but refuses
> any international investigation.

> A film on the police operation contradicts the version spread
>by the OSCE
> > PRISTINA (Kosovo) by Le Monde's special correspondent
> Christophe Chatelot

> Wasn't the Racak massacre a little too perfect? Le Monde
> received some new eyewitness testimony on Monday, Jan. 18,
> that throws doubt on the reality of the horrible spectacle of
> heaped-up corpses of dozens of Albanians who were
> supposedly executed summarily by Serbian security
> forces last Friday. Had these victims been executed in cold
> blood, as the KLA says, or were they killed in combat, as the
> Serbs affirm?

> According to the version received and distributed by the press
>and the Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) of the
> Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE),
> the massacres took place in the early afternoon of Jan. 15.
> "Masked" Serbian police entered the village of > Racak, which
> had been bombed since the morning by Yugoslav army tanks.
> They broke down the doors of homes, entered the houses,
> ordering the women to stay there while they drove the men to
> the outside of the village to calmly shoot them with a bullet
> in the head--not without having previously tortured and
> mutilated some of them. According to certain witnesses, the
> Serbs sang as they did this dirty work, before leaving the area
> about 3 :30 p.m.

> The account of two journalists from Associated Press TV,
> which filmed the Racak police operation, contradicts the above
> account. At 10 a.m., when they entered the locality in the
> wake of a police armored vehicle, the village was practically
> deserted. They advanced through the streets under fire from
> the combatants of the Kosovo Liberation Army, hidden in
> the woods that overlook the village. This exchange of fire
> lasted throughout the engagement, with more or less intensity.
> The main fighting was in the woods. The Albanians who had
> fled the village when the first Serb shells landed at dawn tried
> to find safety there. There they ran into the Serbian police
> who surrounded the village. The KLA was trapped in a pincer.

> The place the police attacked so violently on Friday was a
> stronghold of the Albanian KLA independence fighters.
> Almost all the inhabitants had fled Racak during the frightful
> Serb offensive of the summer of 1998. With few exceptions,
> they had not returned. "Smoke came from only two
> chimneys," remarked one of the APTV reporters.

> The Serb operation was neither a surprise nor a secret. On the
> morning > of the attack, a police source tipped off APTV :
> "Come to Racak, something is happening there." From
> 10 a.m. the team was on site, alongside the police, filming
> from a crest jutting out over the village and then in the streets
> behind an armored vehicle. The OSCE was also
> warned of the action. At least two teams of international
> observers were present observing the combat from a hill from
> which they could see part of the village. They entered Racak
> soon after the police departed. They investigated the situation
> by questioning some Albanians, insisting on learning if there
> were any wounded civilians. Toward 6 p.m., they came back
> down to the clinic of the neighboring village of Stimje with
> four people--two women and two elderly men--who were
> very slightly wounded. These verifiers said that they were
> then "incapable of establishing the casualties of this day of
> battle."

> The publicity the Serb police gave out about this operation
> was intense. At 10 :30 a.m., it sent out the first communique.
> It announced that it had "encircled the village of Racak with
> the aim of arresting the members of a terrorist group that had
> killed a police officer" the previous Sunday. At 3 p.m., a first
> bulletin estimated four Albanians killed in the combats. The
> next day, Saturday, the police congratulated themselves for
> the success of an operation, which, according to they own
> estimates, resulted in the deaths of dozens of KLA "terrorists"
> and the seizure of a significant cache of arms.
> > The attempt to arrest an Albanian, the alleged murderer of a
> Serbian police officer, had turned into a massacre. At
> 3 :30 p.m. the police left the area under the sporadic firing of
> a handful of KLA combatants who were still holding out,
> aided by the difficult and steep terrain. Quickly, the first
> Albanian survivors returned to the village, those who
> had succeeded in hiding themselves came out of the shadows
> and three KVM vehicles entered the village. An hour after the
> police left, night fell.

> Guided by the KLA
> The next morning, the press and the KVM came to tally up the
> losses caused by the battle. It is at this moment, that, guided
> by the armed KLA combatants that had reoccupied the village,
> they discovered the ditch where there were lying, piled up,
> about 20 bodies, almost exclusively men. In the middle of the
> day, the head of the KVM in person, the US 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. However, some questions are in
> order. How were the Serbian police able to gather together a
> group of men and calmly direct them toward the place of
> execution when they were constantly under fire from the
> KLA? How could this ditch--situated at the edge of
> Racak--have escaped the view of the local inhabitants, who
> are familiar with the surroundings and were present before
> nightfall? And of the observers present for more than two
> hours in this extremely small village? Why were there so few
> shells around the bodies, so little blood in the hollow road
> where 23 people were supposed to have been shot down at
> point-blank range with several shots to the head? Is it not more
> likely that the bodies of the Albanians killed in combat with
> the Serbian police had been gathered in the ditch to create a
> horror scene that was sure to cause revulsion in public
> opinion? Doesn't the violence and rapidity with which
> Belgrade reacted--it gave the KVM head 48 hours to leave
> Yugoslavia--in itself mean that the Yugoslavs are sure of the
> story they are raising ?

>> Only an international investigation above all suspicion will
> light up all the shadowy areas. Some Finnish and Belorussian
> forensic specialists were expected Wednesday (Jan. 20) at
> Pristina to take part in the autopsies carried out by the
> Yugoslav doctors. The problem is that the authorities in
> Belgrade have never shown themselves to be cooperative in
> this affair. Why? Whatever the conclusions of their
> investigators, the Racak massacre shows that the hope of soon
> reaching a settlement of the Kosovo crisis seems quite illusory.

> - END -

Back to main page, write us!

Last changed on October 16, 2001.
e-mail: mail@communistvoice.org