December 03, 1999
NYT - Slaying in Kosovo Followed Serb's Error


NIS, Serbia -- He was a 62-year-old university professor, a former Fulbright scholar who had studied and taught at the University of California at Berkeley. But Sunday night he made a fatal error and drove his wife and mother-in-law across Kosovo's capital, Pristina, through crowds of ethnic Albanians celebrating a nationalist holiday.

The Albanians spotted Dragoslav Basic and the two women as Serbs, blocked the car and began to set it on fire. When the family climbed out of the car, the crowd beat them. Then someone held a gun to Mr. Basic and shot him dead.

By the time peacekeeping troops and United Nations police arrived, the two women were severely injured. By the time they were hospitalized in Serbia hours later, Mr. Basic's mother-in-law, Borka Jovanovic, 78, was in a coma.

It was just the latest in a series of attacks by ethnic Albanians against Serbs that have plagued the peacekeeping effort since NATO troops arrived in Kosovo in June. Albanians have been subjecting Serbs and other minorities to a campaign of violence that echoes the terror they themselves experienced at the hands of Serbian police and military forces earlier this year.

Thursday, the two women lay in the central hospital here in Nis. Mrs. Jovanovic remained in intensive care, barely conscious, said the chief surgeon, Dr. Ratsko Djiordjevic.

All the ribs on her left side had been smashed, her lungs and spleen ruptured, and she suffered abdominal bleeding.

Dragica Basic, 50, the mother of two, suffered a broken arm, dislocated shoulder, five broken ribs, punctured lungs and a concussion, Dr. Djiordjevic said. As she slept, her black hair framed a face battered with multiple bruises and a plaster cast over her broken nose. Her 19-year-old son, Tomislav Basic, who is studying to be a pharmacist at Belgrade University, watched over her.

"When I arrived I could not recognize her," he said, his American-accented English reflecting the year and a half he spent studying in California. "She is so beaten up, it's terrible. I thought, this is not my mother."

Mrs. Basic has been able to tell him something of what happened.

Sunday evening, the Basics had driven over to Mrs. Jovanovic's home in Pristina to bring her to back to their place. Mrs. Jovanovic had been beaten last August when teenagers broke into her house. Despite this, she continued living alone. But the celebrations on Sunday, as hundreds of Albanians celebrated their Flag Day, setting off firecrackers and firing pistols in the air, frightened her.

"There was a big crowd in the city," Tomislav Basic said. "They tried to take another route to the house to avoid the crowd.

"It was late at night; he made a mistake obviously," he continued, referring to his father. "On one corner they had to stop. People came to the car, and surrounded it. They were asking for some ID. My Mum and Dad tried to speak in English because Serbian is not allowed in Pristina, but someone from the gang figured they were Serbs."

Albanian prejudice against Serbs is so strong now in Kosovo that few Serbs dare venture into the street. Most try to conceal their identity, and in particular avoid speaking Serbian. The risk they face was highlighted in October when a United Nations employee from Bulgaria was shot dead in the street after he replied to a question in Serbian.

When the crowd began setting the car on fire, the three had to get out and that was when the crowd started to beat them, Tomislav Basic said.

"They had weapons, because someone shot my father," he said. "They executed him like a dog in the street."

United Nations police investigators have yet to make any arrests, and have not found anyone who will testify as a witness, a spokesman in Pristina said on Wednesday. Moreover, Albanian trainee policemen working with the United Nations police were called traitors when they escorted the two women to the safety of the police station, a local newspaper reported.

Tomislav Basic accused the United Nations police who now patrol Pristina of arriving "irresponsibly" late. He also lashed out the ethnic Albanians on the streets that night. "There are about 100 witnesses, but no one witnessed it, and no one helped them," he said.

The commander of the NATO-led peacekeeping force, Gen. Klaus Reinhardt, said the attack revealed "a basic lack of humanity by the people in the streets and a high degree of intolerance on the side of the attackers and the bystanders."

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