Number of missing Kosovars is challenged
By Charles A. Radin, Globe Staff and Louise D. Palmer Globe Correspondent,
WASHINGTON - Experts in surveillance photography, wartime
propaganda, and Balkan diplomacy say there is every reason to
believe that atrocities are being committed against the ethnic Albanian
majority in strife-torn Kosovo, but little reason at this time to accept
the huge numbers of dead and missing Kosovars that are being bandied
The US State Department said Monday that a half million ethnic Albanian
men are unaccounted for in the disputed province, which is part of
Serb-dominated Yugoslavia but 90 percent Albanian, and a department
spokesman hinted that 100,000 may have met with foul play. The statements
have stoked public outrage, but they are based on no publicly available
documents or photographs.
''In all these cases, the first numbers we hear are overestimates,'' said
Farouk El-Baz, a pioneer in photography from space who directs Boston
University's Center for Remote Sensing.
''I am surprised we are not seeing more of what is on the ground. There
must be more'' that US officials could show, El-Baz added. ''Sensing
equipment is now at a state that should make these things more obvious and
In the 28 days since NATO began bombing Yugoslavia in what was portrayed
as an effort to stop attacks on and expulsions of Kosovar Albanians,
several instances of misinformation have sparked questioning of the
information being released by alliance and US officials.
After Yugoslavia charged that a refugee convoy had been bombarded by NATO
jets, US General Wesley Clark, the supreme commander of NATO, spun the
story around, blaming Yugoslav forces for an attack that killed dozens of
civilians. Clark then retracted the statement, and NATO took
responsibility for hitting civilians.
In the same incident, the Pentagon released a taped interview with an
American pilot purportedly involved in the bombing, but it turned out that
the pilot was describing a different mission.
NATO and the State Department have repeatedly said that they had evidence
that members of the Albanian intelligentsia were being executed. While
some of those named were indeed killed, others turned up alive. Among them
was Baton Haxhiu, who reportedly heard himself pronounced dead by NATO
officials in Brussels. Haxhiu, the editor of the independent ethnic
Albanian paper, Koha Ditore, was alive and in hiding.
US and NATO officials have repeatedly asserted they had evidence that
Yugoslav forces are committing crimes against humanity and committing mass
genocide. This week, they said, these forces had dug mass graves pointing
in the direction of Mecca, using a satellite photo to underscore their
''Long neat rows of individual graves, 150 very neatly dug graves - these
are not mass graves,'' said MIT political science professor Barry Posen, a
specialist in the history of warfare. ''It's weird to think they would
have a mass murder, recruit grave diggers, and properly orient the graves
toward Mecca so as to give them some semblance of a proper Muslim
Posen said hunger for news has led to nearly unquestioning acceptance of
official statements and superficial appearances by the Western media,
allowing the politicians and generals leading the air campaign to use the
refugees to justify the bombing.
''Because the press has not gone back to investigate and dispel `facts'
that were staked out at the beginning that said there were already
hundreds of thousands of refugees,'' Posen said, ''NATO is able to absolve
itself and make great use of very tragic pictures of people in very tragic
circumstances to say, `See, this is why we fought the war, to reverse
Nongovernmental specialists and analysts contacted about the various NATO
claims uniformly said they believe atrocities are occurring, and stressed
that they do not want to be interpreted as defending or excusing these
But, said Robert Hayden, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Center
for Russian and East European Studies, the State Department reports of
100,000 to 500,000 unaccounted-for Albanian men ''are ludicrous - the
story is just ludicrous.
''NATO is running a propaganda campaign, there's no question about that,''
Hayden said. ''There have been lots of discrepancies in the official
story, but what is interesting is that, until now, there has been
amazingly little scrutiny of that story.''
However, there are other explanations other than propaganda campaigning
for NATO and the United States to hold back on high-altitude or space
photos that could document the location of dead and missing Kosovars.
''When you show a picture, any good expert will know that this photo must
have been taken by a certain type of platform, and that the camera
characteristics are 1, 2, 3, 4,'' El-Baz said. ''Governments do not want
to tell the general public what the detailed capabilities of the sensing
equipment are. And if you show the photo, an expert can make something
like it, or try to evade it.''
Swanee Hunt, who was US ambassador to Austria in the mid-1990s while the
former Yugoslavian republic of Bosnia was the focus of ethnic wars, said
she was looking at pictures of men lined up to be executed and piled into
mass graves long before the photos were ever released publicly.
''The means we have of gathering information are very sophisticated. They
are extraordinarily detailed,'' said Hunt, who runs a public policy
program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. ''But the intelligence
community is very sensitive about their methods ... maybe not because the
Serbs are watching, maybe because the Chinese are.''
This story ran on page A02 of the Boston Globe on 04/21/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.
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