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Three Serb Soldiers

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K., a volunteer member of the Yugoslav Army
k.

Why did you volunteer ?

I just felt the need to defend this country . . . we were attacked by an alliance of 19 countries. . . . it was the defense of the integrity of the country.

What was your unit's purpose?

We were in charge of the security of the region, and the anti-terrorist actions. Where they showed up, we went. We had constant sporadic troubles with the terrorists. And we weren't only protecting the Serbs, but the Albanians as well. There were loyal Albanians that were against everything.

How did you discover the ones that were in the KLA?

It wasn't simple. We waited for them to start shooting at us. Once they were shooting at us, we knew that they were terrorists, we would then go into classic cleaning operations.

Sometimes you would apparently order them to strip . . .

Yes, they would forget to change their clothes completely, and they'd be wearing their army underwear. In principle, they had a good system. They were wearing civilian clothes, over their uniforms . . . then they would have their uniforms over their civilian clothing. And another layer of civilian clothing over that . . . and they took it off when appropriate . . .

Apart from the clothing, any other way that you were able to establish their identity?

We would leave it to more specialized people . . . we were selecting the younger ones who would go to further check-ups and the elderly we would release . . . if it was in their interest, we would direct them towards the Macedonian border . . .

Check-ups?

The security men that were in charge of such cases. They had all the information. They could identify them easier than us . . .

Were there any cases where you were certain immediately, that someone was a member of the KLA . . . ?

Of course . . . if he is shooting at you, then he is . . . without a doubt. . .

The cleaning actions . . .

For example, the village of V. . . . we got an order to comb the village. Three volunteer units were deployed. We came across some resistance in the village, proving that they were there . . . We eliminated them . . . We finished the search operation and the villagers, some of them wanted to stay put, some wanted to move on . . . because of the security . . . the bombing was contributing as well . . . Anyone who didn't have arms on them and didn't shoot at us were left alone . . . we were combating those that were shooting at us . . . they waited for us.

And how do you know who has fired at you?

As soon as there is firing from a house, that house is marked . . . then, you engage in combat.

On 11 or 12 April, we went into action . . . we took down around 4,000 people from the hills . . . in one day . . . We were working with the police then. They arranged buses for the women and children and the old . . . to take them to J. One group of people were separated for further questioning . . . the 30-40 age group men . . . we put them in trucks and have them taken to Pristina . . . There wasn't a lot of gunfight . . . we almost peacefully got them to come down from the hills . . .

There was the separation of the families, etc. Did you have feelings for them?

I don't know . . . women and children . . . I wouldn't say that they were "feelings," it was a form of pity. There was a lot of innocent people . . . women, children, very old people. Barely able to move . . . they needed help, they didn't need to be caught up in this . . . we gave them food, drink. They formed the columns on their own . . . they were running from gunfire, from the bombs. The terrorists had their organisations in every village, we had to eliminate them. Maybe that was the least painful way. The innocent would run, and the terrorists would fight us.

You told us that the system of orders was changed [at one point]

Every action that was about to be done, there was an order . . . in writing.

I had principles. I saw every order before going to action. We had orders for V., M, and G. . . . those were the actions of "cleaning" that I participated in . . . We had an order to get them from the hills, and that's what we did. After that, there were groups of people that wanted to go into cleaning actions of their own accord. That's not cleaning . That's theft, robbery. . . . A few villages were done without orders until [a] General saw one of the unauthorized actions. He ordered the soldiers to stop, he told [those] that have already formed a column, to go, because there was fear already and he couldn't have guaranteed them safety. When volunteers are being accepted, sometimes even thieves turn up. You can't control everything. We were careful that the group of volunteers that joined from patriotic reasons, the good people, were following orders to defend themselves and act against the terrorists. . . .

How were the "cleansing" actions planned?

The planning was done in the command . . . by the men who were ranking officers.

What information did you get before the actions?

You receive a map, with your destination, directions, sometimes immediate fighting if need be. If there is a blockade, you wait and then the ones that are escaping the cleansing would run into the blockade . . .

NATO entering Kosovo. Did it ever worry you?

No, because we were ready for a ground attack . . .

While you were there, you felt ready for anything?

I can say that 90% of the fighters were ready. On top of that we had 150,000 men there. If anyone wanted to move us, it would have taken a force of 10 times that power, plus they would have taken the 7-8 times the loss. I am certain that if all of those experienced men with I don't know how many wars behind them, if for just a moment they thought that they wouldn't have losses of more than 1 in 3,they would have gone for it. They knew what awaited them, and they didn't go for it . . .

What does the agreement mean to you?

I am a soldier. I respect an order. Politicians thought it was the thing to do. It was to do with the state of the civilians going through that evil bombing. They hit civilians. I had cluster bombs falling in front of my door where my wife lives and 5 children. The population was affected; maybe there is another reason for the politicians to accept it.

For you, is it a victory or a defeat?

I don't know . . . If there was a call, I think that 90% of Serbs are ready for it.

So you would go again . . .

Immediately. Kosovo is Serbia and you can't take it away.

What do you feel for the Kosovo Albanians?

I don't hate them. . . .

Were you ever sorry for them during the war?

Personally, speaking for myself, when I go to war, everyone shooting at me is my enemy . . .

Was your participation in the war justified?

From my point of view, yes . . . I was involved in operations that came from the top, and carried the weight and credibility, so, it was normal . . .

Is there anything that you regret, or feel guilt about, from the war?

No, I am sad that we are not [down] there anymore and that our politicians signed the agreement . . . It was the right thing to do, from their point of view . . . I don't regret anything . . . if they needed me again, I would go . . .

D.,a member of the Yugoslav Army who served in a tank unit. Among other details of his experience he talks about the execution of 30 Albanian women and children.
D.

Can you tell us about Kosovo?

Immediately after the bombing started I was mobilized, and we were on our way to Kosovo. On the 4th day they bombed us. We had five dead and 19 wounded. That's when we realized we were at war with NATO and the terrorrists...



What was your mission ?

We were told that our main purpose is to prevent NATO's ground invasion... after the 4 days the concept was changed because we were attacked by the terrorists and we were drawn into it.

What was one of the orders that you were given?

We were given an order to take a village, for instance without having any information about possible terrorists...or anything else...

Would your action be planned, or was it just like "see that village, take it" and the tanks roll...?

No, it wasn't planned...the command would pass to our officer, and he would take it from there...we wouldn't sit and plan how to hit, with what and from where, and discuss the number of terrorists, and their firing power...once the order was given, we would sit in our vehicles and attack.

Give us an example.

Why were we attacked by NATO? What was our big sin? They started poking their nose in our internal politics. There was a village around B. Early in the morning, we were given an order to take the village in front of us...that's how it was said...we have to take this village...we were told to take our places and wait for the support which was the police...They arrived, we had to take our positions and fire a few projectiles, after which the [police] would go into the village. This particular one was Albanian civilians, there were no terrorists, and because there was no planning, there was this big incident where one of the men, because one of his friends was killed in the previous night, took around 30 women and children, put them against the wall, and shot them. . . . When he heard the news that his first neighbor was killed in the bombing, he wasn't the same person any more, he went berserk. I was just passing when I saw a lot of civilians, mainly women and children. They were crouching. He was in front of them with a machine gun. From the noise of the motor I couldn't make out what he was saying to them, I just saw that he was shouting at them, he was probably saying that they were guilty for his neighbors death. He lifted his gun, and started firing at them. The women and children were just falling. When he finished his business, his crime, he turned around and went away. They were left there lying in the grass.

I felt crazy, heavy. My colleague was trying to calm me down saying, "You didn't do this, you are not to blame for this, we had to come here, we were mobilised. You have your family at home. Think of them. You have to make it back." He managed to calm me down a little, but that picture will be in front of my eyes for the rest of my life.

What did you want to do when that happened?

First, I wanted not to be there. Secondly, I wanted to even kill myself, because I couldn't bear what I saw. Maybe I could have killed him as well. I started to scream, to tear my hair out. I tell you, if I didn't have my friend beside me, I would have surely gone mad, without a doubt. . . .

Do you think that these sort of things were happening often ?

I am certain of it... but I can just tell you this...as far as the Army was concerned, these sort of things didn't happen very often. One man is in command of 100 men, and among that 100 there is maybe the 99th man is the exception. But as far as the police, those sort of things [happened] often.

. . .

That village where that incident happened was the first and the last village that we entered. Later on . . . everything came to this: we would stop in front of a village and from a distance fire a few times, after which the [police] would go in clean it, rob it burn the houses . . . only then we would go in . . .

Did you see them "engage" the civilians?

Yes, most of the time. The terrorists would run as soon as they saw the tanks, especially when we started to fire. We could see them running from the other side of the village . . . . [The police] didn't care whether they were terrorists or civilians, it was enough that they were Albanians...they would take them out of the house and shoot them immediately and carry on. They would move on as soon as they shot, because behind them, there was a column of vehicles [whose] job was to collect the bodies and the loot. . .

What was the "horseshoe"?

That was the system that was applied in all the wars. You would surround the village from three sides, and the 4th would be left for the civilians to run. They had the opportunity to leave the village. . . .

Under whose command were the special police units?

They had their officer in charge. I think that they were above us in terms of authority. The Army is bigger as an institution than the police, but they had control over us. We couldn't enter the village until they were finished with their looting and killing. Only when it was communicated to us that the village is free, we would enter. . .

Let's talk about the way you would look for the suspects.

In one particular action, [the police] took this village. When they left, we entered with tanks. All of a sudden, one [old man] appeared. . . . Our guard arrested him. Then some questions followed. He said that he was from the other village, that was visible from where we were, but that he came here to milk a cow. They asked him to explain, and he said that he used to live in this village a while ago, but the cow was left in this village and he came to milk it, so that he could then take the milk to another village. We were obviously suspicious, and he started talking and not making any sense. . . . The commander said that he should be shot. I was against that--even if he hated us, he was one foot in the grave. But they suspected the story because there were cases when they would give the positions away, and we would be bombed. . . .

Tell us about any other criteria for the detection of the suspects.

When a young Albanian would be caught, it was assumed that he was KLA, because he was young and able to carry a gun. He would be taken away and questioned. Everyone of them would be shot afterwards; the questioning was a formality. They just wanted to find out if he was really a member of the KLA, and therefore had valuable information. . . .

How do you feel about your role in this war?

I went there because I had to. I didn't go as a volunteer. There was only 2-3% of volunteers. . . .

Do you think that the actions that you participated in were justified?

I can say 50/50. Half the time they weren't, because in many cases they were civilians, and the other half was justified because why were we attacked by NATO? What was our big sin? They started poking their nose in our internal politics. It would be the same as if I came to boss you around in your home. That's not nice. They should have let us finish it somehow. It would stop somehow. . . .

Do you feel like a defeated man or victorious?

Victors, we are not. Let that be clear to everyone. Maybe in the military sense. . . . We had small losses and progressed very effectively, but it was all sold at the negotiating table, so what kind of victory is it? I see one big defeat. We were fighting and dying down there so that one man in the end would sign it away. . . .

Would you ever go back to fight there ?

Never, but here is the one big but: this country is ruled by the police. As long this man is in power, there will be wars. I am telling you, next year, there will be another war in Yugoslavia if Milosevic remains in power. This will not stop in Kosovo. I wouldn't go back, but tomorrow, I will refuse the call, and I suppose that 90% of my friends will do the same, and after 24 hours the police will come and get me.

What are your hardest memories from Kosovo?

The worst was the execution of 30 women and children. I was seeing it with my own eyes. I wanted not to be there. . . . The youngest was in its mother's arms, and the oldest not even 10.

J., a reservist in the Yugoslav Army
J.

Can you tell us about an action where you participated and /or witnessed the cleaning action of the Alabanian population?

We were given an order once to clean a village around M., in it were mainly women and children, there were around 50 people, out of that 30 women and the elderly who were given the task to leave the village within 3 hours with whatever they can take with them. . . . They had time to take whatever they needed the most and pack it on their tractors, and gather in the middle of the village, so that our units could see them out of the village. . . .

How did you drive them away?

We were all masked and protected, so that we couldnt be idenified, in case anyone, for any reason wanted to record something. So, that first shock would have as a result the women would faint, the children would scream, so it was chaos in the first hours. Even we felt uncomfortable because we weren't used to drive women and children out of their homes. Their men had left them, for better or worse. The younger ones were fainting and would be hiding the children in the most unusual of places. They even hid the children in the chimneys . . . .

You expected to receive an order to kill people in D.?

We expected resistance, first, and if that was the case, we had an order to neutralise all live force, so there was no pardon for anyone.

Even for the civilians?

Absolutely. We didn't know who was a civilian and in uniform, and who is who. . . .

When you are there, and on such a mission, you are just thinking how to save your skin. Whether they are old or young, or women, you know that everybody is against you. That was an action that hapened in the beginning of May that we did with the police, and we had a task to destroy everything in that village because we received information that [KLA] were there, concentrated with their best men, and that there are civilians as well, but a smaller number than other villages, and we had an order to neutralize them. . . .

Did you see women and children that were killed?

In that village were killed only five elderlies from the civilians...

Do you know who killed them?

Ours...

How did it look from a point of view of a soldier?

It is a situation do or die. It's them or us.

But you said that they were old men.

Yes, but in that village [there were KLA] and there were civilians. They were mixed, so it was a question whether they would attack us, or we them. What hapened was "scorched earth," don't leave anything. . . .

Why was it neccessary to drive the civilians out of their homes ?

It had to be done for a few reasons--regardless of whether the command arrived from the top, or even if I found myself there, maybe I would have given the same order--because, simply, you couldn't trust those locals. . . . From the examples that were happening in Kosovo, it was possible to expect anything, so it was the most logical and realistic, to clean the village and to drive out what is possible to drive out, and sleep peacefully, not thinking about whether someone will come from the neighboring house and throw a bomb, or cut someone's throat.

It happened; not in our unit, but in another reservist unit, who, met their end from carelessness. During the night, the group of Albanians they were guarding cut their throats during the night. It used to happen, and learning from them, it was ordered to clean everything, there was no other way. . . . When you are in such a place, and on such a mission, you are just thinking how to save your skin, regardless whether they are old or young, or women. You are on the terrain, and you know what kind of mood towards you is down there. You know that everybody is against you.

...

Maybe it is unusual to you, or illogical to you, but you go to action and you are given a mission to destroy. . . . You are given a mission that has to be realized and done, so you don't think about if it will be on your concience and if it's ok that you will kill someone other than soldiers, when everyday you are listening to the news that the town that you came from is being bombed . . .

You mentioned the peace agreement. Do you sleep peacefully after everything that was done there?

The peace agreement that was signed then, and that is in power now, is, for us who were down there, at least in this moment, equal to defeat. . . . The biggest revolt and anger from those of us who were down there was when we were listening to Radio Belgrade. Serbia was celebrating the signing of the agreement. The reaction was very different from us down there. We saw it as defeat, as capitulation. . . .

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