Remember why NATO spent 78-days bombing Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999?
There was the ethnic cleansing. The atrocities. The refugees chased out of Kosovo by the Serb army. The mass graves. The heaps of bodies tossed into vats of sulphuric acid at the Trepca mines.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said there were 100,000 Kosovo Albanian Muslims unaccounted for.
Problem is, none of it happened.
NATO’s original estimate of 100,000 ethnic Albanians slaughtered, later revised downward to 10,000, turns out to be considerably exaggerated.
Dr. Peter Markesteyn, a Winnipeg forensic pathologist, was among the first war crimes investigators to arrive in Kosovo after NATO ended its bombing campaign.
“We were told there were 100,000 bodies everywhere,” said Dr. Markesteyn. “We performed 1,800 autopsies — that’s it.”
Fewer than 2,000 corpses. None found in the Trepca mines. No remains in the vats of sulphuric acid. Most found in isolated graves — not in the mass graves NATO warned about. And no clue as to whether the bodies were those of KLA terrorists, civilians, even whether they were Serbs or ethnic Albanians.
No wonder then that of all the incidents on which Slobodan Milosevic has been indicted for war crimes, the total body count is not 100,000, not 10,000, not even 1,800 — but 391!
It was Walker, at the time head of the Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) who, on the morning of January 16, 1999, led the press to the Kosovo village of Racak, a KLA stronghold. There some 20 bodies were found in a shallow trench, and 20 more were found scattered throughout the village. The KLA terrorists, and Walker, alleged that masked Serb policemen had entered the village the previous day, and killed men, women and children at close range, after torturing and mutilating them. Chillingly, the Serb police were said to have whistled merrily as they went about their work of slaughtering the villagers.
Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, as eager to scratch her ever itchy trigger finger as her boss was to scratch his illimitable sexual itches, demanded that Yugoslavia be bombed immediately. Albright, like a kid agonizingly counting down the hours to Christmas, would have to wait until after Milosevic’s rejection of NATO’s ultimata at Rambouillet to get her wish.
But not everyone was so sure that Walker’s story was to be believed. The French newspaper La Monde had some trouble swallowing the story. It reported on Jan. 21, 1999, a few days after the incident, that an Associated Press TV crew had filmed a gun battle at Racak between Serb police and KLA terrorists. Indeed, the crew was present because the Serbs had tipped them off that they were going to enter the village to arrest a man accused of shooting a police officer. Also present were two teams of KVM monitors.
It seems unlikely that if you’re about to carry out a massacre that you would invite the press — and international observers — to watch.
The film showed that as soon as the Serbs entered Racak they came under heavy fire from KLA terrorists positioned in the surrounding hills. The idea that the police could dig a trench and then kill villagers at close range while under attack troubled La Monde. So too did the fact that, entering the village after the fire fight to assess the damage and interview the villagers, the KVM observers saw no sign of a massacre. What’s more, the villagers said nothing about a massacre either.
Yet, when Walker returned the next day with the press — at the KLA’s invitation — there was the trench with the bodies.
Could the police have returned later on and carried out the massacre under cover of darkness?
That seems unlikely. Racak is a KLA stronghold. Serb police had already discovered that if they were going to enter the village they would have to deal with the guerillas. How could they torture, mutilate and cold-bloodedly kill villagers at close range while harassed by KLA gunfire?
And why, wondered La Monde, were there few signs of spent cartridges and blood at the trench?
And now there’s a report that the Finnish forensic pathologists who investigated the incident on behalf of the European Union, say there was no evidence of a massacre. In an article to be published in Forensic Science International at the end of February, the Finnish team writes that none of the bodies were mutilated, there was no evidence of torture, and only one was shot at close range.
The pathologists say Walker was quick to come to the conclusion that there was a massacre, even though the evidence was weak.
And they point out that there is no evidence that the deceased were from Racak.
The KLA terrorists, the Serbs charge, faked the massacre by laying out their fallen comrades in the trench they, themselves, prepared, and the United States used the staged massacre as a pretext for the bombing.