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Tribunal Hears Of Mass Expulsions

Testifying about mass expulsions by Slobodan Milosevic's troops, a Kosovo Turk told the U.N. war crimes tribunal Monday his village was forced to ferry thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees to the Albanian border.

Saqir Thac, 48, said within days of the start of the air war by NATO against Yugoslavia in 1999, his "calm and quiet" village of Mamusa in Kosovo's southwest was overwhelmed by 30,000 refugees. He said the village, mostly populated by ethnic Turks, normally had a population of about 6,000.

"We opened our doors to them at night and they came to save their lives," said Thac.

On March 27, a few days after the NATO bombing began, Serb troops rolled in with tanks and ordered everyone to assemble in the village center. The villagers were told to bring out their trucks and drive the refugees to the border.

The soldiers threatened to burn homes if villagers resisted. That night, some 30 houses at the end of the village went up in flames and seven men — three Turks and four ethnic Albanians — were killed, Thac said.

A week later, Serbian police ordered a dozen Turks to drive their trucks to Malisevo, about 12 miles north, and ferry more refugees to the Albanian border.

"They told us to take these people straight to Albania, there was nothing else we could do," said Thac, who was among the 12 drivers.

The convoy halted 4 miles from the border in the village of Zur because the roads were jammed with other refugees. From there, the ethnic Albanians continued on foot.

Cross-examining Thac, Milosevic tried to cast the Mamusa villagers as "loyal citizens of Serbia" who voluntarily "assisted the ethnic Albanians to a safer place."

Milosevic asked Thac to confirm he took part with 15,000 other Kosovo Turks at an anti-NATO rally in the city of Prizren, in April 1999. Thac claimed the Turks were "forced to take part in the rally."

He denied that rebels of the Kosovo Liberation Army came to the village or that he knew any rebels himself. He also denied knowing about attacks by the rebels against Turks.

"This witness does not seem to know anything about anything except that he helped a group of Kosovo Albanians get out of Kosovo," Milosevic said.

Milosevic is on trial for alleged war crimes and genocide in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia, during the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, in what 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.