16 Jan 09

Kosovos Marks Racak Massacre Anniversary

Kosovo Albanians gathered in the village of Racak on Thursday to mark the 10th anniversary of the massacre of more than 40 ethnic Albanians by Serb security forces, seen by many as a watershed event  that invited Western intervention in the 1998-99 guerrilla conflict with Serbia.
The massacre is one of the most hotly contested incidents of the Kosovo conflict, with Serbia still denying its role in the killings. Even the number of victims is not fixed, estimated at between 40 and 45 people. 

“Recak will not be forgotten for one century; it will remain in our collective memory,” said Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu at a ceremony to mark the anniversary.
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci declared that “Recak precipitated the diplomatic steps of the democratic states,” that led to the NATO bombing that expelled Serb forces from Kosovo.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia last February after nine years as a United Nations protectorate. At the Thursday ceremony, it invited William Walker, the diplomat who reported the massacre to the world, as a special guest, honouring him with a commemorative stamp with his picture.

“If Recak wouldn’t be there maybe Kosovar citizens would still live in fear”said the  former chief of the verifying mission of the OSCE. "The people of Recak paid a big price on what the world saw later to be ethnic cleansing.”

On Jan 15, 1999, a Serb commander reported 15 Albanian guerrillas killed in action at Racak, with no Serb casualties. But international monitors led by Walker reported a very different scene, a shallow ravine littered with the corpses of men and teenage boys, bullet-riddled, some mutilated.

When Walker called the scene a massacre, the propaganda machine of late Serb autocrat Slobodan Milosevic went into overdrive, countering with its own versions of the event. But few outside Serbia were swayed and under threat from NATO, Serbia had to join Kosovo Albanians for peace talks in Rambouillet, France, the following month.

After days of tense talks, Milosevic rejected the radical force reduction demanded by the West, and Walker and his 1,400-strong Verification Mission pulled out.  NATO began bombing on March 24.

(Reporting by Vjosa Musliu)

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