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From Prison to War | "Her Face Tortures Me" | Justice for All? | We Need Justice

From Prison to War

Many Serb militiamen were sent to Kosovo directly from Serbian prison cells. We spoke with several men who fought in Kosovo in exchange for their release from jail. One ex-prisoner we meet in Montenegro is Marko, a muscular underworld figure decked out in gold medallions, designer sunglasses, and Bermuda shorts. Marko says he was serving a five-year sentence in Serbia for armed assault when he was released, trained in a Serbian police camp, given a gun, and sent to Pec to conduct so-called special operations.

"My orders were to arrest people and bring them in," says Marko. "Then, there were special orders to bring certain individuals in dead or alive. I liquidated five or six people that way. We arrested important people, political types, functionaries. For our freedom we would do just about anything."

Marko and the other militia members we interviewed said some units were sponsored by Serbian gangsters with close connections to Slobodan Milosevic's secret police. These sponsors paid the fighters as much as $3,000 a month and arranged for weapons and ammunition from the army in exchange for a large cut of the stolen Albanian property.

Marko said his benefactor was the infamous Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as Arkan. Both a political leader and a reputed gangster, Arkan was indicted by The Hague Tribunal in 1997 for committing war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia earlier in the decade. Arkan was murdered in Belgrade in January, 2000.

Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch believes state-sanctioned criminals were an essential component of Serbia's war in Kosovo. "There were strong criminal elements involved all the way from the army through the police to the paramilitaries," says Abrahams, "and that is a reflection of the Serbian and Yugoslav state. This is a gangster regime. We're talking about a country that is run by people who are deeply involved in all kinds of illegal and illicit activities. So if that takes place at the top, on the level of ministers, it certainly will take place at the level of street thugs and local policemen."

These thugs and policemen were deployed by high-level commanders in the assault on Cuska. Witnesses saw Nebojsa Minic and Srecko Popovic -- the Lightning commanders -- taunting the unarmed civilians and firing machine guns at the feet of terrorized children.

We show photographs of Minic and Popovic to one of the execution survivors at Cuska, a young farmer named Besim. With no prompting, he recalls seeing Popovic ordering the separation of Albanian men to be executed. "He was in the center giving orders," Besim says. "The rest of the soldiers would go to the houses and round up men. All the while this Popovic was screaming at us, 'you asked for NATO, we'll give you NATO now. You Albanians will never be free unless you kill all 11 million Serbs.' "

Another survivor of the shootings, Skender, also identifies Popovic in the photos. "I noticed he had a cross around his neck," he says. "He had a military-green T-shirt. He gave the orders for us to divide into two groups and sent us to the houses."

In separate interviews, witnesses say Popovic led Skender and nine other men, at gunpoint, to an empty house. There the Albanians were cut down with machine guns. Skender survived by leaping out a window just seconds before the killers opened fire.

Meanwhile, Nebojsa Minic was hunting more lucrative prey. Minic grabbed 51-year-old Chaush Lushi, widely known as one of Cuska's richest men. Minic's men also seized Lushi's 20-year-old son Arian, demanding keys to his car. Chaush Lushi offered to get the car and some money in the hope that the Serbs would spare his son's life. According to witnesses, Minic marched Chaush Lushi away to his house.

Lushi's wife, Ajsha, stayed with the group, watching in horror. "Chaush brought all the money he had," she recalls, "everything to save our son. When he returned to the cemetery, he saw that his Arian had been taken away. 'Where is my son?' he asked. And they told Chaush, 'You may be a rich man but we still killed your son.'"

The son, Arian, was shot with 10 other men, minutes before his father returned. Chaush Lushi was last seen alive with Nebojsa Minic, the Lightning commander.

The next day, Ajsha Lushi discovered her husband's body sprawled in an outhouse.

"He was lying face down, and there was blood everywhere," she says. "It was difficult to see. There were so many flies. He's been stabbed in the throat, and his hand was nearly cut off. I think they did it to steal his watch. Then I cried and said to him, 'Chaush, we have no men in the house now that you're gone. Where is our son? Without you, we have no home.'"

Next: "Her Face Tortures Me"