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Justice for All?

Dragan's admitted role in the summary executions and deportations at Cuska clearly ranks him as a potential war criminal. But experts on international justice say he and others like him will probably go unpunished. Indeed, Dragan and other ground-level militia members who carried out the massacre at Cuska may have the least to fear from the UN's war crimes tribunal at The Hague.

Dennis Milner, the UN war crimes investigator, says his team's effort will continue to focus almost solely on the top echelon of Slobodan Milosevic's regime.

"You have to bear in mind that the Tribunal was never set up, never intended to take up the actual prosecution of ground level perpetrators," Milner says. "We will assert that the guys at the top are the ones responsible ... and that they, by implication, have pulled the trigger."

Some human rights advocates criticize this top-down strategy because too many culprits at the bottom simply get away with their crimes. M. Cherif Bassiouni, a former top UN war crimes investigator who teaches international law at De Paul University in Chicago, says even the men who provide support for the actual killers could be prosecuted.

"They are as equally responsible as those who have gone in and actually gunned the people in the field," Bassiouni says. "It is a concept of group responsibility. It is no different than a gang of criminals in which two are outside holding guard, two are inside a bank or a store committing a robbery or killing somebody. All four are equally responsible."

Nevertheless, Bassiouni endorses The Hague tribunal's focus on Slobodan Milosevic and his top brass. The real issue, he says, is not punishing past crimes but preventing future crimes.

"Men in the field, yes, they do commit crimes," Bassiouni says. "But unless they are ordered to do so, unless they're given the prospect of immunity, they are not likely to do so on their own. The only way you can deter these types of crimes is if prosecution targets the leaders."


The outhouse where Chaush Lushi, 51, was shot and slashed to death. ICTY investigators circled bullet holes with chalk.

(Photo: Stephen Smith)

Despite the Tribunal's stated focus on Serbia's leadership, its teams have fanned out across Kosovo to gather material evidence. Weeks after NATO's arrival in Kosovo, a Danish police forensics team working for the Tribunal was in Cuska, prying bullets from the filthy outhouse where Chaush Lushi was shot and slashed to death.

If the man who killed Chaush Lushi can be identified, according to the UN's plan he would be tried in local Kosovo courts, not before the international tribunal in Holland. But the local justice system faces staggering obstacles. First, virtually all of the suspects have fled to Serbia or Montenegro, though under local laws a suspect can be tried in absentia. Second, post-war legal and police systems barely exist in Kosovo. And third, there's a new wave of ethnic violence to cope with, and Serbs are now the main target.

Each week since NATO's arrival in Kosovo, ethnic Serbs and other minorities have been murdered, apparently in retaliation by ethnic Albanians. Many of these Serbs are elderly. The UN estimates that more than 300 people have been killed in Kosovo since the war officially ended in June. Yet UN legal experts say the Tribunal is unlikely to investigate this surge of violence because UN jurisdiction covers only crimes committed in wartime.

Tribunal prosecutors will turn many cases and the evidence they've gathered over to local Kosovo courts. This worries Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch who says these local courts may become overwhelmed by the number of crimes against Serbs and Albanians.

"The courts are hardly in a position to deal with pickpockets, let alone war crimes," Abrahams says. "It's very doubtful that people will be held accountable through that mechanism. Unfortunately, that leaves us in a difficult position regarding justice. I want war criminals behind bars, and it's frustrating to see that that probably won't take place."

In addition to justice, another goal of the NATO intervention is also in jeopardy -- reconciliation between Albanians and Serbs. Just as Cuska was commemorating its massacre in July, 1999, Serbian villagers in nearby Gorazdevac were burying their own dead -- a young man and an elderly woman, apparent victims of the Albanians. As Serbian priests splashed red wine and sprinkled Kosovo soil onto the green body bags, the village's men looked on in silence. Some moved their lips with the liturgy.

Later, an easy-going villager named Boris invites us back to his house for the most traditional of Serbian hospitality, glasses of homemade plum brandy. Neighbors gather 'round to complain about life in the last Serbian enclave in this part of western Kosovo. Italian NATO troops stand guard in the village with tanks and machine guns. Without them, the Serbs fear they'll be murdered or driven out by the Albanians. The UN reports widespread and systematic violence against the Serbs who remain in Kosovo.

But, before the war, some of the Serbs in Gorazdevac crossed the river to Cuska daily to tend crops growing on that side of the Bistrica River and to visit their Albanian friends. Now, the villagers say, the only thing they exchange with the Albanians is gunfire.

One elderly Serbian woman recalls the earlier time of harmony among the villages. "I must say that until yesterday we shared bread and salt, Serbian and Albanian," she says mournfully. "We went to each other's weddings and funerals and celebrations. We were very good friends, until recently."

A man with fiery eyes chortles at the woman, "I'll just say this, one of us is better than 10 of them."

Boris interrupts to mock the angry man. "Yeah, but that's the problem," he says with an ironic grin. "That's what they say about us. "

"It's like a loaf of bread is broken," responds the first man. "It can never be put back together. We can never be on good terms with the Albanians. Never."

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