The bodies of 15 women, children and elderly members of the Deliaj clan lay slumped among the rocks and streams of the gorge below their village in Kosovo province Tuesday, shot in the head at close range and in some cases mutilated as they tried to escape advancing Serbian forces.
In village houses, three men, including Fazli Deliaj, the 95-year-old patriarch, who was paralyzed, were burned to death by Serbs who torched the buildings.Down the dirt track a few miles at Donji Obrinje, three more elderly people lay dead on their backs in their gardens, shot in the head as they apparently came out to plead for their lives. Ali Kolludra, 62, still gripped his hooked walking stick Tuesday as he lay dead on the ground.
Local villagers said the massacre took place Saturday morning, two days after the village came under siege by the Yugoslav army and the police of Serbia, the republic that makes up the major part of Yugoslavia and includes Kosovo.
On Monday, monitors from the United States and the European Union inspected the bodies of the Deliaj clan in the gorge. That night they submitted a graphic written report of what they saw to their embassies in Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital.
On Tuesday, the families buried their dead, 21 in all, while about four miles away in Golubovac, a survivor showed a reporter the pools of blood left by a separate attack Saturday that he said left 13 dead.
The killings appeared to show as definitively as anything that the forces of the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, have been conducting a campaign of terror and destruction against ethnic Albanian civilians that is intended to intimidate them but that appears instead to be inspiring even stronger defiance.
Senior officials in Washington and at NATO last week stepped up their threats of military force against Milosevic and demanded that his forces stop their rampage.
The Serbian government, whose driving force is Milosevic, announced Monday that it had ended its tank and artillery offensive against separatist guerrillas in Kosovo. But ambassadors visiting Kosovo on Tuesday from Belgrade said they saw no sign that the army and police had withdrawn to barracks.
Here in the lower Drenica Valley, where the Kosovo Liberation Army has been most resilient, it appeared that the executions were intended to send a particularly stark message of terror before winter sets in and the Serbian forces face more difficulty in moving around. The spate of killings on Saturday appeared to occur as Serbian forces wound up their current operations in the area.
A State Department official said that American diplomats, including Defense Department personnel, had seen the bodies and reported their observations but that they "are not forensic experts."
The American special envoy for Kosovo, Ambassador Christopher Hill, told CNN that "there have been a number of these reports" of massacres. "This is a very brutal conflict," he said. "It's one more reason why we need to get international forensic experts in there," to better judge the causes of the deaths.
About 250,000 ethnic Albanians - who outnumber Serbs nine to one in Kosovo - have been forced from their homes since spring. Many of their homes were burned and looted by the Serbs.
Western governments and human rights groups say they cannot definitively enumerate the number of civilians - on either the ethnic Albanian or the Serbian side - executed since the start of the conflict in March. But Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group, is scheduled to issue a report that documents two major incidents, in the villages of Prekaz, Likoshe and Cirez, where Serbian forces shot 80 Albanian civilians in the spring.
At the site of the other execution, in Golubovac, Adem Hoxhaj, 63, described to a reporter Tuesday how 13 men were lined up against the fence of his house on Saturday morning and shot with a machine gun from a mound of earth about 10 feet away. There were separate pools of blood for each body along the fence Tuesday and the casings of about 80 bullets on the mound.
Hoxhaj said the men, between 18 and 35 years old, were all brought to his house by Serbian police from the nearby forest where they had been hiding. The rest of the villagers were also brought in from the forest but were herded into a house and detained, he said.
Hoxhaj said he escaped from the house and could see the execution from hedges on the other side of the garden. His description fit closely with that given to diplomats Tuesday by another survivor, whose account they said they considered "very credible."
In Gornji Obrinje on Tuesday, the bodies of the dead were slowly being brought up from the gorge. Two of the ethnic Albanian men arranging the burial wore holsters with pistols.
From the way some of the bodies lay on a rocky path, it was evident that the women and children had tried to escape and had run straight into police. Zahide Deliaj, 27, lay on the rocks, shot in the face, and behind lay her two daughters, Gentiana, 7, and Donieta, 5, their yellow rubber boots still on their feet.
A few feet behind Zahide Deliaj, on the same path, lay Mejhane Deliaj, 27, and her 4-year-old daughter, Menduhije. Behind her lay Lumnije Deliaj, 30, who relatives said was seven months pregnant. Her abdomen had been slit open.