Reassured by a renewed pledge of American support, the U.N. war crimes tribunal trying Slobodan Milosevic heard testimony Thursday of Serb atrocities in Kosovo that left the mutilated and naked bodies of ethnic Albanian countrymen in piles.
Sabit Kadriu, 41, described evidence of massacres in northern Kosovo in the fall of 1998, several months before NATO began a bombing campaign to force Serb troops to leave Kosovo, the rebellious southern province of Yugoslavia.
Kadriu, who said he was a human rights activist based in the town of Vucitrn, recalled going to several villages after hearing reports of killings by Serb police and army.
He said he saw 14 naked bodies in Galica, including the corpse of one woman, piled on top of each other. Many were mutilated, their eyes gouged out, their throats slit or their skulls smashed. He said he found similar scenes in the villages of Osljan, Zilivode, Bivoljak.
In a related development, Yevgeny Primakov, Russia's prime minister at the time of NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia, said he would be prepared to give evidence in support of Milosevic.
Primakov, now chairman of the Russian Chamber of Commerce, told reporters he was ready to testify to the role the former Yugoslav leader played in the Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts in the 1990s.
"I can testify to the positive role of Milosevic (in these episodes). It was not the negative role they are trying to ascribe to him at the trial," said Primakov, foreign minister and then prime minister in the 1990s.
Milosevic is on trial in connection with rampant war crimes in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia, which occurred during the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. His trial is seen as the most important war crimes trial since the aftermath of World War II. He could face a life sentence if convicted on any one of 66 counts.
Kadriu's testimony came a day after the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes, Pierre-Richard Prosper, softened recent criticism of the tribunal's activities and pledged continued U.S. support until the capture and trial of its two most wanted fugitives, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his top general, Ratko Mladic.
Last week, Prosper told the U.S. Congress the legal process in the Yugoslav and Rwanda tribunals at times "has been costly, has lacked efficiency, has been too slow, and has been too removed from the everyday experience of the people and the victims."
In March 1999, the Albanians welcomed the bombing by the NATO alliance, despite Serb retaliation, Kadrui testified.
"Serbs started gathering, looting and torching homes of Albanians," he told the court, as Milosevic sat in the defendant's dock about 10 feet away. "The burning went on until late at night."
Kadriu said he was herded onto a convoy of several thousand ethnic Albanians that set off for Macedonia, but he left the convoy with his family and took refuge in a village controlled by the Kosovo Liberation Army. They stayed until May 1999 when the rebels advised them to leave for a safer place.
On the night of May 2, 1999, Kadriu and his family set off once again with thousands of others. Village elders carried a white banner identifying them as civilians, but they were still attacked by the Serbs, he said.
Survivors were taken to a farming cooperative, Kadriu said, and the men were separated from the women by Serb policemen he recognized. Kadriu was taken to the village of Smrekovnica, where he was imprisoned with 62 others.
During interrogations at the prison, Kadriu and others were forced to sign confessions they were KLA "terrorists." Some men were taken to the basement from where "sounds of torture could be heard," he said, adding he once saw a blanketed body being brought up and taken away.
After several days, the men were taken by trucks to a nearby medical facility.
"We were lined up with our hands tied behind our heads and forced to kneel down," Kadriu said. "The prison wardens then hit us on the back with rods. Those who could not take the hits, fell." While this was going on, music was being played, he said.
Kadriu's group was released from prison later in May and bused to the Albanian border. "They told us to run toward the border and not look back," Kadriu said. He returned to Kosovo one month later.
Prosecutors presented a dozen Serb police documents, including a report from the Vucitrn police describing how Serbs had taken Albanians prisoners. "On May 16, 830 men of the Albanian minority were detained in a police action suppressing terrorist activities," and taken to Smrekovnica, it read.
Copyright 2002 CBS. All rights reserved.