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Kosovo Serb professor's trust was fatal error

Thu, 2 Dec 1999

By Philippa Fletcher

NIS, Serbia, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Dragoslav Basic, a university professor who had taught at Berkeley, California, thought it would be only a matter of time before things in Kosovo calmed down.

He also thought if he used back streets and spoke in English rather than his native Serbian, it would be all right to drive through Kosovo's capital Pristina late at night to fetch his elderly mother-in-law, who was afraid to be alone during a noisy celebration by the province's recently liberated Albanians.

He was wrong on both counts and paid for his mistakes with his life.

``People surrounded the car and asked for their IDs,'' said Basic's son, Tomislav, describing how his father, mother and mother-in-law were stopped in the car.

``Mum and Dad tried to speak in English, because Serbian is not allowed in Pristina, but someone from the group figured out they were Serbs so they set their car on fire,'' he added.

``They had to get out of the car and that's when they started to beat them up.''

In a nearby ward of the hospital in the southern Serbian city of Nis where Tomislav was speaking, his mother bore the signs of that beating. Her face was covered in bruises and she had difficulty breathing.

Chief surgeon Ratsko Djiordjevic listed her injuries; four broken ribs, a punctured lung, head injuries, a broken nose, concussion, a broken right arm and dislocated right shoulder.

Her 72 year-old-mother suffered worse.

``The whole of the left side of her rib cage was broken, she had damaged lungs and internal bleeding in her chest and abdomen. We had to operate immediately and found a ruptured spleen and liver,'' Djiodjevic said.

Tomislav's father was shot dead.

``There were about 100 witnesses, no one tried to help. They executed him like a dog in the street,'' he said.


The killing on Monday was part of a wave of attacks against Serbs in Kosovo since the NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers took over the province from Yugoslav forces in June.

At first these were greeted with some understanding by the West, which was horrified by the terror Kosovo's Albanian majority suffered at the hands of the Serbs during the NATO bombing which preceded the deployment.

But with the rapid departure of those guilty of the worst crimes, revenge became a less plausible motive, especially after a Bulgarian U.N. worker was shot dead, apparently for answering a question about the time on the street in Serbian.

KFOR and the U.N. civilian administration in Kosovo strongly condemned Basic's killing this week, but said a conspiracy of silence was making it impossible to track down the murderers.

Tomislav said his father's crime was that he was a Serb.

``My father was never in uniform. If he'd done anything ugly he wouldn't have stayed in Kosovo and waited to be killed.''

An Albanian academic confirmed that Basic was not thought to have been involved in the killing, burning or looting that took place before and during the NATO air strikes.

``My Dad was a professor of civil engineering. He graduated in the States and was invited back to teach at Berkeley,'' said Tomislav, who himself studied in San Francisco and spoke in accent-free American English.


When the Albanians took back the university from which Slobodan Milosevic expelled them as he rose to power 10 years ago on the back of a pledge to protect the Serbs in Kosovo, Basic was left unemployed.

But despite that, and an attack in August on his mother-in-law by juveniles KFOR said were too young to prosecute, Basic, whose daughter had worked for the international monitors in Kosovo before the air strikes, wanted to stay in the province.

``They were hoping things would settle down,'' Tomislav said.

His voice hardened with anger and grief, he said he had a message for Western governments.

``You bombed Serbs because Serbs conducted ethnic cleansing although you found no proof of that, no mass graves,'' he said, expressing the blank denial many Serbs resort to when faced with Western documentary evidence of the killings.

``The Albanians are doing the same thing now. What are you going to do to them? Did you defend them so they could kill university professors at Berkeley, California?''

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