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Media Ignore Questions About Incident That Sparked Kosovo War
February 1, 2001

In 1999, the discovery of bodies in the Kosovo village of Racak helped push NATO into war.  New evidence casting doubt on claims that the bodies were civilian victims of a massacre has stirred debate in the European media-- but there has been a virtual blackout on the news in the U.S. press.

In January of 1999, the American head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Kosovo announced that 45 Kosovar Albanians from the village of Racak had been massacred by Serb soldiers. U.S. diplomat William Walker condemned the killings as a "horrendous" massacre, stating that the dead were all civilians who had been brutally executed, many of them mutilated after death.

Once the massacre story was reported in heart-wrenching detail by media across the globe, pressure for war intensified and previously reluctant European allies took a major step toward authorizing airstrikes. A Washington Post article (4/18/99) reconstructing the Kosovo decision-making process found that "Racak transformed the West's Balkan policy as singular events seldom do."

Troubling questions soon emerged, however, about whether or not there had actually been a massacre at Racak, or whether the incident had been manipulated to push NATO into war-- questions almost completely ignored by the U.S. media at the time.

Front-page news articles by veteran Yugoslavia correspondents questioning William Walker's account were published in French newspapers like Le Figaro ("Dark Clouds Over a Massacre," 1/20/99) and Le Monde ("Were the Dead in Racak Really Massacred in Cold Blood?," 1/21/99). The German daily Berliner Zeitung reported in March (3/13/99) that several European governments, including Germany and Italy, were pressing the OSCE to fire William Walker based on information from OSCE monitors in Kosovo that the Racak bodies "were not-- as Walker declared-- victims of a Serbian massacre of civilians," but were mostly KLA fighters killed in battle.

The Sunday Times of London (3/12/00) reported that Walker's team of American observers was covertly working with the CIA, pursuing a policy intended to push NATO into war. "European diplomats then working for the OSCE claim it was betrayed by an American policy that made airstrikes inevitable," the Sunday Times reported.

After the massacre, the European Union hired a Finnish team of forensic pathologists to investigate the deaths. Their report was kept secret until now, two years later. The U.S. media is ignoring the story, despite the report's finding that although people did indeed die at Racak, there is no evidence of a massacre.

According to the Berliner Zeitung (1/16/01), the Finnish investigators could not establish that the victims were civilians, whether they were from Racak, or even exactly where they had been killed. Furthermore, the investigators found only one body that showed traces of an execution-style killing, and no evidence at all that the bodies had been mutilated.

The Berliner Zeitung also reports that these findings were completed as early as June 2000, but that their publication had been blocked by the UN and the EU.

Except for one brief wire story from United Press International (1/18/01), not a single U.S. media outlet has run a story on the Finnish team's findings. News outlets continue to refer to the Racak massacre without qualification, despite the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the story.

A recent Chicago Tribune report (1/23/01) about the Albanian separatist militia in southern Serbia speculated that the Serbs might "revert to form and respond to an Albanian provocation with a Racak-style retaliation." (The KLA-linked militia, called the UCPMB, are reportedly preparing for a new war and recently fired on British KFOR troops-- London Guardian, 1/26/01.) The Tribune made no mention of any questions surrounding the Racak incident.

A recent Philadelphia Inquirer story (1/23/01) about Yugoslavia's relationship with the war crimes tribunal at The Hague claimed that "Serbs refuse to accept the world's vision of them as aggressors," and noted that Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica "alleges the killings [at Racak] were staged to look like a massacre to embarrass Yugoslavia." The Finnish team's findings about Racak, which prompted Kostunica's recent allegations, went unmentioned.

An Associated Press article (1/18/01) did elliptically note the new report's existence, reporting that Kostunica wants to discuss with The Hague "reports attributed to Finnish pathologists saying there was no evidence of a Serb massacre" at Racak (1/18/01).

With tensions in southern Serbia mounting and fears of a new Kosovo war escalating daily, the U.S. media's silence on this story is troubling.

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