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
 more certain.''
 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.

Back to texts' page
Back to index page

This page has been visited times.