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Massacre described at Kosovo war crimes trial

Thursday, December 11, 2008

BELGRADE, Serbia —  A former member of Serbia's notorious paramilitary unit testified Thursday in chilling detail how his ex-comrades massacred ethnic Albanian civilians in one of the most brutal atrocities of the Kosovo war.

Four members of the Scorpions paramilitary group are being tried by a Belgrade court for allegedly gunning down 19 civilians _ including women, children and the elderly _ in the northern Kosovo town of Podujevo in March 1999.

"I saw the civilians coming out of a house," the witness, identified only as "P1" said, testifying behind a curtain to protect his identity.

"First came an elderly man, then two women with children in their arms, followed by a girl and a boy. Then, hell broke loose," he said, with paramilitaries shooting and shouting: "Up against the wall, lets kill them all!"

The killings took place at the start of the NATO bombing, which was launched to stop the Serbian onslaught against Kosovo Albanian rebels. The air war lasted for 78 days, forcing Serbia to relinquish control over the region.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February.

The witness, who said he feared for his life because he decided to testify in exchange for clemency, told the court he saw an ethnic Albanian woman crying after apparently being raped by a Scorpion.

He said the paramilitary then grabbed the women by her hair, smashed her head against a wall and fired two shots at her. He could not identify the rapist.

The four ex-paramilitaries were arrested last year. Another former Scorpion, Sasa Cvjetan, was convicted of the Podujevo killings in 2004 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Domestic war crimes trials of Serbs accused of atrocities during the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s became possible only after the ouster of former President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

Milosevic died in 2006 while on trial at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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