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Thursday 24 Apr 2014

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Evidence of atrocities committed by Kosovo Liberation Army uncovered

Ten years after the war in Kosovo ended, a BBC News investigation for BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents and BBC Two's Newsnight has uncovered evidence of atrocities by the Kosovo Liberation Army (the KLA), during and after the war in Kosovo.

During the war, Slobodan Milosevic's Serb forces destroyed hundreds of villages in Kosovo, and left thousands of the majority Kosovo Albanian population missing or dead.

But there have also been persistent allegations of abductions of a smaller but substantial number of civilians, including Kosovo Serbs, by the KLA, which have not been investigated.

The BBC reveals evidence of illegal prison camps at KLA bases in Western Kosovo and Albania where captives are believed to have been held, many tortured and killed.

The international authorities (the UN and NATO) were in Kosovo, sent in to protect minorities yet, under their watch, some abducted civilians were transferred across the border into Albania.

Prison camp in Kosovo

The BBC located the site of an alleged prison camp at a former KLA base inside Kosovo, on the outskirts of Junik, in the foothills of the mountainous border with Albania. The small red brick houses and shacks behind fitted the description given by a source, who reported hearing captives screaming as a result of being violently assaulted.

Details of the source are being withheld to protect his identity.

"There was this house, this small house, where some people, mainly gypsies and some Serbs were held. They were being held in this shack and they were all prisoners. I think it was around 22 to 25 [people]."

It's not known what happened to these people. The source added: "I never saw them again... they just disappeared... you saw the mountains, I mean it's a huge mountain.. Nobody will look for nobody there."

NATO troops, known as KFOR, were in Kosovo immediately after the war to bring security to the area and would visit the base.

The source said: "When our commanders knew that there are going to be KFOR visits they just put them in the shack."

Sian Jones from Amnesty International told the BBC: "I spoke to a large number of individuals who had told me that they had rushed off to the nearest KFOR base to report that their son or their brother or their father had gone missing that very morning... for the Kosovo force and then later UNMIK were sent in with responsibility for providing a safe and secure environment in Kosovo and these acts happened right under their noses."

KLA camp in Albania

It was widely known that there was a KLA base near the Albanian town of Kukes which weapons, medical supplies and fighters passed through.

However, another separate source whose details cannot be revealed to protect his identity, has told the BBC that it also served as an illegal prison camp. He says he was held and tortured there, with others, for several weeks, after the war had ended.

"I have seen a lot, I have seen people beaten, stabbed, hit with batons, I've seen people left without eating for five or six days. I've see people who are put on bullet-proof vests and been shot at to see if the bullet-proof vest was working.  I've seen people who were thrown in tombs, I've seen people killed."

The victims were said to be a mix of Kosovo Serbs, gypsies and Kosovo Albanians who were accused of collaborating. The source, himself a Kosovo Albanian, has been known to BBC reporter Michael Montgomery for more than five years, but this is the first time he has agreed to give an interview for broadcast.

"What can you feel when you see what they did there, that they killed people in front of you? This is something that is never going to get out of my head what they did there."

Two other sources, who would not be interviewed, confirmed the reports of atrocities and had knowledge of as many as 18 people who had either been killed at the camp or had not been seen again.

The BBC visited a derelict factory and white-bricked building which fitted the description of the location given by the sources. Some of the bodies are believed to have been concealed in the nearby cemetery in Kukes.

KLA denial

General Agim Ceku was a KLA military commander during the war, and served as Kosovo's Prime Minister after the war. He is now an opposition MP.

General Ceku denies that KLA fighters were involved and says they maintained a disciplined force.

"I believe that our war was very clean and I know that justice and truth are in our side, that's the reason why I and my colleagues are very open to have investigation and this truth to be known, because we strongly believe that will prove what we are saying, that KLA was clean army and we fought the clean war.

"Yes, incidents happened but nobody can say exactly who did this, who committed this, but we are aware that some Serbian people are missing today, we are aware that some Serbian people have been killed and we are sorry about that."

Failure to investigate

Six years ago the United Nations received testimony that people were tortured and killed at the KLA in a base in Kukes and in a loose network of secret jails elsewhere in Albania. The BBC has seen documents held at the UN in Kosovo, and in the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, which detail these allegations.

However, no investigation was ever undertaken by any UN body.

Sian Jones of Amnesty International told the BBC: "To see a UN body failing to abide by the international standards to which it holds its member states accountable is really quite shocking. And, more than that, the impact on the families who want to know the fate of their family members, they want to know where their bodies are, they want to know what happened to them."

"What we have is a massive failure to protect members of the minority communities from human rights abuses whilst that very international community was supposed to be there to protect them."

The UN's Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, no longer exists. Eulex (European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo) which replaced it has told the BBC it is now investigating the original allegations of abductions.

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