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The Bloodbath in Racak was a Massacre

By our editor Petra de Koning

, 10 March 2001

Reçak était bien un massacre 

Bloedbad in Racak was een bloedbad

Finnish citizen Helena Ranta conducted the  investigation of the massacre in Racak, Kosovo. For two years she did not want to talk about it. Now, she does. Quite a relief, she says, after "all the nonsense that has been said on this subject."

HELSINKI -- We looked at every centimeter of ground in the ditch, with small shovels, spoons, and metal detectors. It was the ditch in which the dead bodies of 23 Albanian men had lain, just outside the town of Racak in Kosovo. Finnish forensic experts crept through the mud, the bushes, the rocks. That was in November 1999, ten months after the massacre in Racak, in which a total of 45 Albanians were killed, including two women and a child.

"If we had found nothing in the ditch," the Finnish investigator Helena Ranta now says, "then it would have been entirely a set-up by the Albanians." But lying there were bullets, bullet shells, and even still a body part of one of the victims. That this was lying here was important, and how it was lying even more important.

Ranta sits in her office at the University of Helsinki. A small, sturdy woman with blond highlights in her hair and her glasses on a chain around her neck. She is a dentist, anthropologist, and molecular biologist. Ranta led the forensic investigation into the death of Albanians in Racak, commissioned by the European Union, and later also by the Yugoslavia tribunal in The Hague to do so.

The slaughter was not the first in Kosovo, but now indeed it is the best known. Western political leaders had already decided that the violence of Serbian soldiers against Albanians must finally come to an end. The television images out of Racak, of badly mutilated bodies in the ditch and in the village, horrified the West, and military intervention became even more urgent. Two months later, on March 24, 1999, the first NATO bombs fell on Yugoslavia.

There were already doubts about Racak at that time. French newspapers wrote that the Albanians had staged a massacre scenario in order to provoke NATO actions. Serb authorities had let it be known that in Racak "several dozens" of soldiers of the Albanian freedom forces UCK [KLA] were slain in the conflict. Other Albanians were supposed to have laid bodies in the ditch so that it would seem that they had been executed by Serbs.

The Finnish investigation team had examined the bodies in the hospital in Pristina, the capital city of Kosovo. In the village itself, they couldn't carry out an examination, because of the snow. At a press conference, shortly before the beginning of the air attack, Ranta presented no proof of a massacre, but hypotheses -- which everyone interpreted according to their own opinions and sympathies.

Thereafter Ranta said nothing more, for two years. About the research scarcely anything came out in the open. Doubts about Racak became stronger. Especially after the bombardments public opinion changed. Albanians drove Serbs out of Kosovo. They were no longer pitiable and had they really deserved the NATO actions? The Berliner Zeitung and the VPRO-program Argos (Dutch TV) opined that on the basis of autopsy reports by the Finns that the victims of Racak hadn't been shot from up close. That would mean that the Serbian version made sense, that the Albanians had been killed in battle. The BBC reported last year in a retrospective look at the Kosovo war that the UCK in Racak had "provoked" the Serbs. Last month the German WDR transmitted a documentary with the title "It began with a lie. The Racak lie."

Indeed it was too bad, says Ranta, that she couldn't react to "all the nonsense" that was said and written on this matter. She was afraid that she would harm a possible lawsuit against Milosevic adjudicated by the Yugoslavian tribunal if she reported about her investigation. Racak is an important part of the accusation against the Yugoslavian ex-president, and Ranta herself will appear as a witness in a possible trial.

Last month the EU found that indeed something about the forensic investigation needed to be made public. Colleagues of Ranta had, without her knowing about it, written a scientific article about the investigation of the dead bodies. The Berliner Zeitung had seen the piece prior to publication and had ascertained that there still was no evidence of a massacre. The EU decided that a summary of the investigation report should be available to anyone who requested it. But the summary is vaguely worded and barely understandable. A Russian diplomat at the UN Security Council was furious. Now still no one knew who was responsible for the slaughter.

Ranta smiled; she had kept the summary vague intentionally. Now she is willing to talk about it, to explain what was meant by the summary. No one should think that she had gathered no evidence -- but as for drawing conclusions, that will be left up to the judges of the tribunal. It was her duty, she says, to rule out scenarios. Of the Serbian scenario, nothing remained. "We have found no indication that it did not have to do with unarmed citizens." On the morning of the massacre there was fighting in the area, nine UCK fighters were killed, but they did not belong to the 45 whose bodies were found the following day. "In the pockets of the dead, we encountered no munitions, but only banknotes." The dead were wearing citizens' clothing, seven or eight layers over one another, it was winter. In these clothes they were killed, according to the forensic investigation.

It can also be ruled out that the 23 men in the ditch were somehow killed in some other manner. They were not laid in there later, there was nothing "staged." Ten months after the massacre, the Finnish investigators found bullets in the ditch. They lay under the ground, at the places where the bodies were found. Next to one of the bullets lay also a body part. Results of the autopsy in the Pristina hospital were compared with what was found in the trench: the man whose body part had been found was lying on the ground when he was shot dead. About the other victims there was, according to Ranta, a similar pattern observable.

From the investigation it appeared that the Albanians in the ditch couldn't have been shot from a long distance. If that had indeed been the case, then the bullets couldn't have been lying in the ditch itself. Moreover bullet shells were found in the bushes next to the ditch. So it can be calculated from what distance the shooting took place. Ranta is not willing to name the exact distance.

"What difference does it make if it was one or two meters? It was not in battle."

The investigators have also ascertained that the bullets that were found in the bodies and in the ditch came from a "small number" of weapons. How many exactly is something Ranta will not say. In the autopsy, described in the scientific article by her colleagues, it seems that eleven bodies exhibited signs of a "series of shots."

Immediately after the massacre the tribunal established an ad-hoc office in Macedonia and queried witnesses. With the examination of the bodies and the research in the ditch the Racak affair is the "best investigated matter in the history of the tribunal," Ranta thinks. "I think that we are probably very close to the truth."

Translated from the original Dutch article.

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Critique of NATO actions weakened

By our editor Petra de Koning, 10 March 2001

Bloodbath in Racak not staged

HELSINKI - The massacre in the Kosovar village Racak, which in 1999 was the motivation for the NATO bombardments of Yugoslavia, was not staged by Albanians.

That is evident from the investigation of Finnish forensic experts, on assignment by the European Union and the Yugoslavia tribunal in The Hague. Those opposing the NATO actions claimed, over the past several years, that there could not have been any question of a massacre by Serbian troops.

In a discussion with this paper, Helena Ranta, who led the investigation, says that the 45 Albanian victims were unarmed citizens. 23 of them were shot at close range, while in a ditch. Up till now Ranta refused to go into the investigation report, which will play an important role in a possible lawsuit in The Hague against the Yugoslav ex-president Milosevic. Doubts about the events in Racak, set into motion by the publications in French newspapers, were thereby never entirely removed. The Albanian freedom army UCK [KLA] had staged the massacre to elicit NATO attacks against Serbs, it was thought.

Serb authorities did acknowledge that indeed on the 15th of January 1999 in Racak, Albanians were killed, but that was supposed to have to do with UCK soldiers slain in a battle. Other UCK fighters would, subsequently, have placed 23 bodies in a ditch outside the village, whereby it would seem that they had been executed. Last year the Berliner Zeitung and VPRO-radio reported, on the basis of secret autopsy reports done by the Finns, that the victims had not been hit at close range.

Finnish expert Helena Ranta calls it a relief that she finally can talk about the investigation, "after all the nonsense that has been said and written about this." According to her it is clear that the 23 Albanians in the ditch were shot to death, and that the distance between culprits and victims was short. At least one of the Albanians was finished off with a bullet while lying on the ground, and with the others a "similar pattern was perceptible."

For two years Ranta said nothing about the investigation in order not to jeopardize the case against Milow only be "confidentially" inspected by the members of Parliament. From the summary, which is vaguely formulated, it can be inferred that the people killed had not fallen in battle.

The limited public disclosure of this is a reaction to a recent publication in the Berliner Zeitung. On the basis of an article by Ranta's colleague in a forensic journal, the paper reported that investigators have found no evidence of a massacre. In Germany the discussion of the air attacks became more vehement in the past weeks, after the airing of the WDR documentary "It ssevic. With this statement at this point, she is reacting to the summary of the investigation report which, in the Netherlands, could up till notarted with a lie." The “lie" was Racak.

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