Excerpts from Interviews with Militia Members

| Milos | Branko | Marko | Zoran | Petar | Predrag | Miodrag | Petar V. | Vaso | Dragan

Editor's note: The following are excerpts from interviews with Serb fighters who were active in Pec and surrounding villages up to June, 1999. The interviews were conducted in Montenegro in September, 1999, by Michael Montgomery and Stephen Smith of American RadioWorks. The first names are pseudonyms.

"Milan" is a Bosnian Serb who belonged to the militia gang Munja (Lightning)

I was recruited into Munja by a member of the Serbian Radical Party in Belgrade. He provided us with weapons, ammunition, satellite phones and walkie-talkies. That was the middle of March 1999, ten days before NATO began bombing.

We trained for three days at a camp in Leskovac (Serbia). There were 20 in my unit, and most of the guys came with war experience from Bosnia and other places. Three of them were former members of the Yugoslav state security service in Croatia. Many of them were criminals.

The goal was to fight against the KLA and to cleanse away their support. I am a Serbian patriot. I fought for the Serbian cause. And also for the sake of money. Money was the main thing.

We heard that members of the Serbian secret police were transporting Albanian civilians in the trunk of their cars for $2,700. There were some members of my unit who would take the money and just kill the guy. I didn't do such things. I took them to the border. When the NATO bombing intensified, I started doing the same thing - taking the money and killing them.

I don't care about Albanians. They're shit. They have dirty children. But we were not killing children or raping women. I mean, that's one of the biggest lies, about the rapes. Albanian women are so dirty and ugly, how can we rape them?

A Yugoslav army officer -- Major Radicevic -- was supplying us with food and ammunition. Every three days, the truck would come with ammunition and food. And other things from the army-like travel documents, to allow you to pass check points. We also had travel documents from the police inspector at the training camp in Leskovac, Stojkovic.

(In one operation) we suspected that in four houses in the village, there were members of the KLA. I opened mortar fire on those houses and we entered the hamlet. When we arrived there were dead people; five or six civilians, a couple KLA soldiers. Those who survived, they fled to the forest. We were successful and didn't even need artillery support from the army, like the other groups.

We grabbed two wounded guys who we thought were from the KLA and killed them.

Our job was to cleanse the village. Some other villagers were hiding in the forest, so we went there to pick them up. There was this village elder, some old Albanian guy, who refused to leave. I mean the guy was just pathetic. We ordered him to go to the border to Albania, but he just refused. So we put a bullet in his forehead. The others were taken to the border while we burned everything in that village. The whole village.

We'd hear about what was happening to Serbs every day on the news. When you see that Nato is bombing the center of a town or the television station in Belgrade, and every day friends, comrades died, you don't care about the Albanians. Why would you? We lived off revenge. Sweet revenge.

During the history of Serbian nation, everybody has hated us. We suffered many casualties during the first world war and the second. Our nation was always threatened...you have to strike back, pay back that evil.

Back then revenge, felt very good. Especially when we killed the KLA. That was back then. Now I can't sleep, I can't eat. It hasn't lasted.

"Milos" belonged to a militia unit knows as the "Frenkies Boys"

We were a special unit of the secret police. I got to Kosovo a few weeks before the NATO bombing. We expelled Albanians from areas that had been the strongest bases for the fighters. Not to exterminate them, but to drive the out for good. The least harmful thing that happened in the war was when the army arrived and said you have two hours to get out. Those were the lucky Albanians.

There were many Albanian terrorists. We were outnumbered. And the most powerful armies of the world start bombing you - it's a totally exceptional situation. Anything goes.

We were a special unit. But the paramilitary groups - I call them gangs. Everything below us, the army and the police, they were gangs. Nevertheless, there was some control. These groups were all given their zones of operation. They were allowed to do what they wanted. They were put into places intentionally and told to do what they wanted to get the job done. It was their job to kill and rape and do what they liked.

I think a man who is prepared to rape and mutilate civilians, someone who would attack a village just to massacre civilians, whatever nation that man is from that person brings no honor to his nation. I would liquidate them immediately. No courts, just executions.

"Branko" was a resident of Pec when he joined Munja (Lightning)

I was told when I joined that our task would be ethnic cleansing - expelling people from their houses. There were some other jobs, too, not just cleansing. We made arrests, mostly targeting Albanian leaders, eliminating all those who supported the idea of an Independent Kosovo. Not only KLA leaders, but influential Albanians, the intellectuals.

Our leaders would divide us into small groups - usually three to five people. If the action was more serious, we would use more men. Nejbosa Minic was the leader. His nickname was Mrtvi (The Dead). We would get a list of names of people to arrest. If they resisted, we killed them. Some Albaninans paid money, protection money. We knew who we should move out and those we shouldn't.

Mrtvi and his people organized everything. Also, the Serbian authorities in Pec - the national police and the Mayor's office.

Mrtvi was extreme from the beginning. He was a man on the edge, always. You can't measure that kind of a man. He's a special case. He was full of hatred. He had done criminal activities with them, the Albanians, and was tricked. So he was full of revenge. And he would murder an entire family - a mother, brother or sister - just for that.

I think everything that happened in Kosovo was pointless. Everyone has to live together. But Balkan people are overflowing with hatred. Milosevic started all of this.

"Marko" was released from a Serbian prison to fight in Kosovo. He went to Pec in a unit of the Serbian warlord Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as Arkan.

I have an ugly history with Serbia. It's ugly. I don't like it there. I hate Serbia. I was in prison. I deserved what I was sentenced for...I was almost two and a half years in prison. Nobody likes war. But there were 50 of us who were offered to defend the state and in return get our freedom from prison. Well, let me tell you, that for freedom we would do just about anything.

Formally, Arkan didn't come to prison. It was one of his men. He had a list of prisoners and their dossiers. They had to be the right profile. All he asked was if you were ready to go, to Kosovo...this wasn't a judge's, or a prison warden's decision. It was Arkan's. He is the law in Serbia.

We had 35 guys, prisoners, at one of Arkan's camp for seven days. I can't tell you where. At the camp there was psychological training, target practice. A whole test. Those who failed went back to prison, even though they had the right profile. We had instruction in defensive tactics, offensive tactics.

I was pulled out of prison before the bombardment. Then I went into Kosovo on April 1st.

Everyone knew there was going to be a NATO air attack. They knew exactly when the air attacks would begin. And when we would begin our work. Of course, ordinary people didn't know.

We headed in new jeeps to Pec. Pec was the center of Kosovo. As soon as we arrived it was pretty heavily damaged. Tougher than we thought...we had a special camp. I can't tell you where it was. Every squad of 15 had a boss. Each unit had a specific task in Kosovo.

We would receive a list of names. Bring this person in alive or dead. I was assigned to arrest people, and had permission to kill them if necessary. You look at the guy, his attitude. If there's attitude, you might just kill him. I mean, there's no point in taking someone in who's just going to cause trouble. We had one guy, all filthy, probably drugged up. I mean, who would want to deal with this guy? I put a bullet in his head and the problem was finished. We had special demands for each job, but cold-bloodedness was an important quality.

We didn't arrest just anyone. My team, that is...but, of course, we arrested important people, political types, functionaries. We didn't arrest people we weren't supposed to, but you know you have crazy people everywhere. People who would rape everyone from Serbia to Albania.

We interacted a lot with certain people at the MUP. There was a kind of crisis council, and some of the information came from there. The lists came from all over, police, city authority, because they had been collecting this kind of information for years. Who were the rich ones, where they lived, who were the important ones, where they lived.

And we had local spies to help us on operations. We would use locals from a particular village to guide us, tell us where so-and-so lived, and they might get some money, if they were Serbs. We also had Albanian spies and Gypsies, too.

My first operation was to arrest a woman. I had five people with me. We had to shoot her, you can't imagine how she was resisting. How it was. You know, they have these houses with high walls...we had information that she worked for the KLA. We were told to arrest her. So, it was a woman, and with women, you know that they are different. She resisted. We were surprised. You know, a woman-35-who had the gall to resist. So we shot her in the legs. And we handed her over. It wasn't any of my business what happened to her. It's stupid to ask questions beyond my job.

Munja..and others. These were cases of criminals and former police men who were looking for money. These groups had the same directives as we did. Or at least similar. Munja was given names of people, on lists, to liquidate, or arrest, and usually the others were moved out. But Munja's main interest was in robbing people and in raping women. They were a dirty group of men who had no qualms about killing women and children, whether or not they were ordered to do it. They weren't disciplined like us. We carried out orders, and we were not ordered to kill women and children. We killed men, we killed those we were ordered to kill. That's the difference. We were professionals.

We were organized, had our tasks and carried them out. We did what we were ordered to. Now, if I had been ordered to kill women and children, I would have. But I wasn't. Men, yes. These guys from Munja, I mean they would just go in and kill. It didn't matter women, children. Except for the women they might want to rape them first. These are Serbs, don't forget. This is Serbian style. It's not really war. It's total destruction.

That was the way cleansing happened. I mean, you used the guys who were really hungry, full of lust, to go into some of these places. And in return, like us, they got a chance to make money. We were all, in a way, working for the same boss-Milosevic-it's just that some people went about their jobs differently.

Minic was crazy, usually on drugs. He wiped out an entire family right near the end. For no real reason except some kind of stupid mistakes or something they made. I think the guy was a butcher. Munja was just a bunch of crazy guys out for action, for money.

Sometimes we would go into a place looking for certain people. If they weren't there we would move on, but behind us would be the cleansers, these crazy guys like Minic. If we arrested somebody, then the family might feel safe. But the others would come in and wipe out the whole village. They were monsters, real monsters.

I don't have any regrets. It was either us or them. I mean, look at what is happening now. But I'm not for killing women and children. I'm a professional.

Zoran was an officer in the secret police of the Serbian Interior Ministry

In September 1998, I went to Pristina to help the Serbian Interior Ministry there, to help fight and destroy the Albanian terrorists.

There were six of us in our team. I won't call it a unit because it was smaller than that. We were under the direct command of the Interior Ministry in Belgrade. The officer who was in charge was talking directly to Belgrade.

Initially, we received orders from the high command to provide some things for leaders of the paramilitary groups. Mobile phones, radio links, satellite communications. They already had weapons and ammo from the army. The communications were so they could be in direct contact with the command in Pristina.

Almost all of Pec was a paramilitary organization. It was shocking. Such a nice place before the war. Pec was most important for these groups. But there were many paramilitary groups founded either by political leaders or criminals. There was a group in Djakovica, for example, formed by the army and a retired colonel. They went to places no one else wanted to. There were Russian mercenaries fighting there in Djakovica, too. They were in a unit called the Wasps.

The orders to move people out were issued by the Interior Ministry in Belgrade, from the top. They were directing refugees toward Albania and Macedonia, Montenegro. In order to have a reason to keep the refugees out, they destroyed all documents. There'd then be no grounds for returning, because they couldn't prove they were citizens of Kosovo.

We hit where the KLA was strongest and had the most support, in western Kosovo. The population was more loyal in Pristina and the east.

The evacuations had a double benefit; not only were we cleansing the territory, but we were creating crises in the other countries. It was a huge pressure on the economies there and was creating conflicts there, too.

After the air strikes, we were ordered to speed up the evacuations, the cleansing. Then it just continued on its own course.

After two or three cases where a lot of young army recruits were killed, they decided to replace them with paramilitaries. Those guys had criminal records before, so to kill a man was not a big obstacle to them.

"Petar" was in a Yugoslav Army special forces unit active throughout Kosovo.

The village was surrounded by army and police units. Then the paramilitaries entered the village like wolves attacking a flock of sheep... I saw them drag a teenage girl onto the street and start hitting her with rifle butts. They just kept pounding her head until she was dead and her brains spilled out onto the cement. They took the other women off in their jeeps. God only knows what happened to them.

"Predrag" was a policeman in Pec. He joined a special police unit in early 1998. He says he participated in the attack in Cuska on May 14, 1999.

When we got to Cuska I saw that everything had been organized in advance. We weren’t supposed to use any heavy weapons because of the threat of NATO attacks. Everything had to be done quietly—Go, finish the job and come back as though nothing had happened. We didn’t do the main job—that was the job of other units—but we gave them support.

Everyone had their fixed positions where they were supposed to hold. The Frenkies had its own, the Fog (OPG) had its own, the Yugoslav Army its own…Fog went in first, or as we called them, ‘the men in black.’"

ARW : They wore black uniforms?

Predrag: Yes. And the KLA wore black, so that was one of Fog’s advantages against the KLA. They (Fog) went in first, to establish a bridge. We were on the wings…We were on the left side. On the right side was Munja, the Pec boys. That was also a special police unit. It wasn’t paramilitary...We made a wedge, then widened it.

Fog usually went with 12 or 24 men…It was the same plan as was used at Racak.

ARW : The same commanders?

Predrag: Probably. We had our own lists. And we were interested in men on those lists, men we could get information from. You can assess according to their faces if they had been fighters. If the skin is tanned from the sun, if he’s skinny…that would mean he was out fighting. Or if his hands were swollen or dirty.

ARW : They could have been farming.

Predrag: At that time there wasn’t much farming.

Miodrag is in his early 20s. He joined the police reservists in Pec in fall, 1998. He says he participated in the May 14, 1999, attack on Cuska.

ARW : Why did you join?

Miodrag: I had nothing to do. I had no job. And I was sick of the Albanians. I also wanted to avoid going into the Army and I wanted to defend my country…

Other cops used to pick on me because I was so young. I remembered that one of my childhood idols had said—trample others in order to avoid being trampled yourself. One guy, another policeman, kept calling me a punk. So I took out my gun, pointed it at his head and said, ‘maybe I’m young, but behind this thing I’m god. And whoever is opposite me is an ant, even smaller than an ant.’

The first time I killed a man it was very difficult for me. That was before we started cleansing the villages. We were patrolling a section of the road near Pec to prevent arms smuggling by the KLA. I remember there was some station wagon, and inside a lot of Albanians. If it were Serbs in the car, we just let them pass. If you saw Albanians you had to draw your weapon and aim it at their heads. I approached the driver with a colleague. He asked for the documents while I held my rifle at them. We told everyone to get out of the car while we searched it. Then we ordered to driver to open the trunk. We followed him to the back of the car. I was still pointing my gun at him. As he was opening the trunk he jerked or something. My brain wasn’t controlling the situation and I opened fire. It was almost like the gun fired itself. He fell in a puddle of blood. I turned away. I can’t describe my feeling. It was terrible. My colleague saw my face and asked what was up. I said, ‘I just killed a man.’ And he said: ‘You didn’t kill a man, you killed an Albanian.’

We received orders for Cuska the night before the attack. We knew the plan—Munja, the Frenkies, other units… It was a pretty routine operation. The village wasn’t defended. Or if the Albanians were defending Cuska it was through bribes. We basically walked in.

In Cuska, I moved on a house with a friend, V. And there we hooked up with another comrade, K…We broke into the house and there was an old man, an Albanian, inside. He was all alone, smoking a pipe. We started searching the house but V started up with the old man. The man pretended he didn’t speak Serbian. Of course, V. was making fun of the man, threatening him and the guy was completely petrified. V. kept provoking him until the man said, in Serbian, ‘It’s easy for you because you are armed and I am unarmed.’ So V took out a knife and threw it to the old man. It hit his shoulder. V said ‘now you are equal, now you’re armed.’ And then he just finished the old man off. Shot him in the head.

I know it must sound strange, right now, drinking coffee and listening to the things that happened then. It sounds awful. But you’re different then, you enter a different world, a different way of life. You get used to it when there is nonstop killing all around you. One of your guys gets killed, and then its their people (the Albanians). It’s a completely different world, different laws, different morals…Today, I wouldn’t even step on an ant. Had anyone asked me (before the war) to kill people I would have said, ‘no way. Are you crazy? That’s only done by…’ I’d never do it. But when you enter that realm, I’m telling you, that’s the way it is.

In Kosovo, people weren’t human beings. People lost their identities. They were only numbers. They wouldn’t say this person or that person died. Like you would in a traffic accident. It was just a number—10, or 20 or 100 killed.

ARW : Was it easier to do those kinds of things when you were in a group of guys doing the same thing?

Miodrag: Yes, brother, the group somehow carries you. Maybe alone you wouldn’t do such things. But the groups carries you along…

When your country’s defense is at stake you can’t escape the reality of committing atrocities. Sometimes I can’t sleep and I just stare at the ceiling, thinking about these things. The images don’t go away. We haven’t preserved anything (in Kosovo). The guys at the top screwed up everything. Serbian politicians screwed us more than the Albanians.

Petar V. is in his late-20s. He was in a special police commando unit in Serbia when he was sent to Pec in fall, 1998. Upon arrival, Petar joined the militia gang Munja, or Lightening. Petar says Munja was a special unit of the Serbian police.

He says he participated in Cuska operation.

ARW : When you heard the gunfire coming from the houses at Cuska, what did you think?

Petar V: It was an ordinary thing. I assumed it would end this way because that’s how it usually happened in other operations.

ARW : And how do you feel about this now?

Petar V: I’m trying to forget about it. It’s not easy. I’ve never spoken with anyone else about this…Maybe at that moment, in Cuska, I was totally cold-blooded. Later, when you think about it, over and over and over, it feels different. Every man has emotions.

ARW : What did you think about the Albanians at that moment, in Cuska?

Petar V: I saw them as terrorists. That’s it. And our aim was to destroy them.

ARW : What happened to the other members of you unit? Are you in contact?

Petar V: There’s only eight or nine who survived the war…I’m trying to run away from all that. I want to leave that behind in Serbia…I feel awful. The people in Serbia don’t understand this at all…You don’t know what it’s like to have this stuff inside you, and not be able to talk about it.

ARW : What will you do now?

Petar V: I don’t know. I’ll try to get a new job. I’ve left the police. I don’ think I’ll ever go back to that kind of work.

ARW : Will you go back to Serbia?

Petar V: It’s easier here (in Montenegro). Serbia is a different story. It’s isolated…The people in Serbia don’t have any idea about what’s happened in Kosovo. This isn’t strange because of the media in Serbia…But you can’t understand it unless you see it. It’s like the war in Bosnia.

ARW : Is it important for Serbs to understand what happened?

Petar V: I think the people need to know what happened in Kosovo. Then things might be different, not like they are now. Serbia would probably then open up to the world. We wouldn’t be so isolated. Montenegro is different. That’s why I want to stay here.

Vaso is in his early 30s. He served in a special Yugoslav 3rd Army tactical unit. He says he was ordered to take part in the attack on Cuska .

ARW : Was it unusual for the men to be executed in Cuska?

Vaso: It was more than unusual and yet it was so common. It was unusual in the sense that this isn’t what people are supposed to do, I mean killing unarmed men…But we went there with one aim, to defeat the terrorists. It was out of patriotic reasons I went to fight. And now I ask myself: Should I have been there? Was I delirious? Had I known what I know today, maybe I wouldn’t have gone. Again, when you live through difficult trauma, it’s hard to figure things out. I walk the streets, alone. I walk all day just thinking. Sometimes I find that I was right to go to fight, other times I feel I was wrong. The pictures from all that are still with me. I still see those innocent people dying. I see a fighter killing a woman in front of her husband and her child. It’s something I can never forget.

ARW : What did your officers tell you about the war, about the Albanians?

Vaso: They always held these classes during training and at other times. They would tell us what the Albanians were doing to us, how many people the Albanians had killed. I don’t know if it was true but they talked in great detail. They would show us pictures of mutilated bodies and talk about this village or that village where the Serbs were killed or driven out by Albanian terrorists. I don’t know if these were true stories but we were blinded by them, by the whole campaign across Serbia. The media was saying the same thing, just one thing. All day, you have one station, one channel, one newscast, one source of information and you have your general, and all of them are talking against the Albanians. You had no chance to like the Albanians, to see them as human beings.

ARW : What would you think if the Hague Tribunal ruled that what happened in Cuska was a war crime and tried to punish the people responsible?

Vaso: Those people should be punished. I agree. I think this was a mistaken policy. And Milosevic, as the person who created this policy, should go to the Hague. I didn’t know what was going to happen when I went (to Kosovo). But they (Milosevic’s regime) calculated everything that happened. He should be the first to go to the Hague and they’ll probably find others.

ARW : How do you feel when you go to you hometown in Serbia and talk to people who support Milosevic, who believe nothing bad happened in Kosovo?

Vaso: It’s terrible. I think it’s a catastrophe for anyone who thinks that way. I tried to explain to people what I saw, what he (Milosevic) has done. I explained the failed policies but I don’t have the nerves or the patience to convince people. I’ve tried to tell people what I saw. But what am I to say to the person who doesn’t believe me...that he’s crazy. Then, either he’ll kill me or I’ll kill him.

ARW : What does you family (in Serbia) think?

Vaso: My family thinks the same way I do. It was my influence. They used to think like Milosevic’s people. Now they think the complete opposite…Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who think the old way.

Dragan is in his mid-twenties. As a member of a Serbian militia unit calling itself the "Czar Dusan" brigade, Dragan says he participated in the massacre at Cuska, including the execution of 10 Albanian men.

ARW : Did you feel like you avenged your dead comrades (at Cuska)?

Dragan: It was a temporary feeling, fleeting. You felt that the more Albanians you killed the more glorious your revenge. But later I understood that I could kill all the Albanians and it still wouldn’t bring back my comrades.

I don’t have much contact with my unit. We’ve scattered. Some have gone abroad, some here, some there…I have difficult nights. I wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning. I can’t sleep. So I walk and while I’m walking I ask myself how this all happened, and why. I ask what’s going on inside me.

ARW : Why did you decide to talk with us?

Dragan: I did it because I thought it would give me some relief, like a confession. This is my confession.


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