Fejze Hyseni, a 67-year-old retired teacher from Zahac, told a familiar Kosovo story of Serbian forces brutally robbing villagers, separating out fighting-age men, and sending women, children, and elderly on tractors and wagons for Albania. But on May 14, 1999, some people managed to return to their village after the attack. As Hyseni's family got back to Zahac, they saw their relatives' clothes strewn in the road outside a bus garage. Inside there is a narrow concrete pit about five yards long where the mechanics work underneath buses. Hyseni's brother pulled back the sheet-metal doors to the garage and started screaming.
"Then my wife and I ran in there where the repair pit was," he said. "We saw that our sons were not moving. They were face down, lying atop each other. My son was in the middle, with his head down and his arms hanging at his side. We could not see any blood because it was night. Then some Serbian guards told us to get away."
That was the last time Hyseni saw his son. Hours later, Serbs in a so-called "cleanup crew" arrived. "They took them away that night," Hyseni said. "Since then, we don't know anything about them, nor about their graves, nor their bones. Were they killed? Were they just drugged? One rumor says they were drugged and taken alive to Serbia. Someone else says they took them and burned them in Serbia."
The Serbian fighters interviewed for this report said Zahac was a typical operation, though none would admit to taking part in the attack. As part of the secret police's Special Operations Unit, Branko said he would often be ordered to a village within hours of an attack. There, local Gypsies were paid to load the bodies from the execution site.
"The trucks usually held 20 to 30 bodies. There were some villages where it was fewer, 10 or 15. If the place was nearby Trepca, we could do two runs in an evening and deliver 50 or 60," he said.
Dennis Milner, the war crimes investigator, says that without bodies to show as evidence it's harder to make a case against specific Serbian units and their commanders for specific massacres. But Milner says that in many incidents, such as the empty graves at Izbica, the Serbian effort to get rid of evidence was sloppy.
"Of course, the people who are actually responsible for taking those kinds of actions are not scientists, they are not investigators, and in order to try to achieve their objectives in a short period of time they become careless," Milner said. "So although most of the bodies had been removed [from Izbica] there was still substantial evidence at the site that corroborated the reports that we already had. And, of course, the films and [satellite] photographs. We found body parts and bits of clothing, we found artifacts, and we found shell casings."
Interviews with Serbian secret police and Yugoslav army members who took part in the destruction of evidence say it was difficult to be thorough because NATO warplanes kept cruising the skies. Another problem was lack of enthusiasm: not only was hauling and burning bodies revolting, it was financially disappointing work. Serbian fighters were often paid thousands of dollars in bonuses for combat operations in addition to a share of stolen Albanian property. As one member of the Special Operations Unit told us, getting rid of bodies was a lot less lucrative than killing.
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