Milosevic's Defense Enrages Kosovo Village

Bilall Bilalli stabbed his finger toward the television and cried out, "It's a lie. I can't listen to this."

He, his family and some friends were sitting at home in this ethnic Albanian village watching former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic testify at the war crimes tribunal at the other end of Europe.

Milosevic cited a German TV documentary and suggested it proved Serbs were not responsible for the massacre of 25 Kosovo Albanians here in 1999.

"I was there when police came house by house picking up people. They sent them up the hill and shot them," Bilalli said.

Witnesses back Bilalli up, saying Serb forces shot and mutilated their victims and ended the six-hour orgy of violence with a nationalist song.

But Milosevic used the ARD documentary titled, "It All Started With a Lie," as part of his defense contention that the trial is politically motivated and based on false evidence.

In the German documentary, filmmakers interviewed German Gen. Heinz Loquai, who advised the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — then in Kosovo as part of a peace mission, and pathologist Helen Ranta, who did the autopsies on the bodies.

Loquai and Ranta said the slayings at Racak might have been the work of other armed elements in Kosovo, beyond Serb forces. They also suggested that the German Defense Ministry had manipulated the event to suit a Western propaganda campaign.

The film, by independent producers Jo Angerer and Mathius Werth, has been strongly criticized by the Kosovar Albanians interviewed for it. They claim their testimony was twisted.

Joerg Schoenenborn, the chief editor of WDR-TV, a division of ARD, said the filmmakers felt "abused" by Milosevic's citing of the video Thursday because the documentary was intended as a critique of Western governments' use of the media — not as Serb propaganda.

"The central accusation (in the film) was that NATO and the German Defense Ministry bent the truth in order to increase public support for airstrikes on Yugoslavia," he said. "We have nothing to retract on that score. Milosevic is using it to construct evidence for his theory that NATO acted criminally. That's a connection that has little to do with the truth."

In the war crimes indictment brought against Milosevic at the tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, his forces are accused of entering Racak on Jan. 15, 1999, and shooting those who fled. The indictment further charged that the troops rounded up 25 male villagers and took them to a nearby hilltop and killed them.

The hill is now a cemetery, grave mounds clearly visible and marked with flowers. Racak sits 18 miles from Pristina, the capital. It's winding dirt lanes were empty Thursday as other villagers, like the Bilallis, gathered around televisions to hear Milosevic.

At the Bilalli house clan members sat near a wood stove on the mattress-covered floor. The television picture was blurry and children took turns trying to get the antenna in the right position.

Tension boiled through the house.

"Milosevic says Racak wasn't a massacre," Bilalli said with fury. "Racak is a massacre — a massacre proved by international observers!"

Bilalli's cousin, Asllan, moved closer to the image on the screen.

"If Racak was not a massacre," he sniffed, "then what is a massacre?"