Exclusively: Head of the US Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission, Shaun Byrnes – I searched for Perenic and Slavuj in vain

Source/Author: UNS, Jelena L. Petković
Source/Photo: Foto: Beta

BELGRADE, 14.12.2017. – When we visited the field, we came into contact with the KLA soldiers, and through them, with their commanders. We always asked them about the missing Radio Pristina crew, but we never got a satisfactory answer – testifies in an exclusive interview with the Journalists’ Association of Serbia (UNS), Shaun Byrnes, former head of the US Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission (KDOM).

He points out that “Fatmir Limaj seems to have the most influence” in 1998 in the region where Ranko Perenić and Đuro Slavuj were kidnapped.

– But that part overlapped with the influence of the KLA from the Pastrik zone that was concentrated in Prizren. Also, the units under the control of Ramush Haradinaj came to this location, whose dominant zones of influence were Pec, Decani and Junik, so you did not know who you are dealing with, and who really has the power. After the October 1998 agreement, I was meeting with senior KLA leaders twice a month, and I initiated this topic, particularly in conversation with Jakub Krasniqi, Ram Buja and Sokol Bashota. They routinely answered that they did not know anything, that they would investigate, check with the commanders. I do not know if they did, but we did not get any information – explains Byrnes for the UNS Dossier.

Be very careful

About the research conducted by the Journalists’ Association of Serbia, Shaun Byrnes says that the kidnapping of the Radio Pristina team is something that could potentially be a war crime, that is, it belongs to the jurisdiction of the Special Court on War Crimes in Kosovo.

– Be very careful. War crimes are merciless, and people who committed them do not want to spend 20 years in prison. They have already killed people who are potential witnesses, and they will not welcome further investigations.

An Albanian who offered help got killed

Asked about the circumstances under which he learned that Radio Pristina’s team had disappeared on August 21, 1998, while carrying out a task, the former US diplomat said that the US embassy from Belgrade had contacted them, and that the Serbian government was probably asking them for help.

– I had good relationship with Veljko Odalovic, and even today I have great respect for his efforts to help Serbs and Albanians. I think he proposed a meeting with Snežana Perenić, Ranko’s wife. It was perfectly clear that she and her husband were normal, decent people who had good relations with neighbors, Serbs and Albanians, that they wanted to live in peace and raise their children. On one occasion, a friend of the Perenić family, a Kosovo Albanian who had some connections with the KLA people, offered to take him to the local KLA leaders to talk to them. He claimed he could help. We organized a meeting, but without results. After the war, when I returned to Kosovo, I learned that this Albanian was killed – adds Byrnes.

A former US diplomat who was also a witness at the Hague Tribunal for the UNS Dossier points out that he never heard that New York Times reporter Mike O’Connor saw a vehicle in which Perenic and Slavuj were kidnapped.

– This is the first time that I hear this story, and this make me a bit angry. I knew Mike very well, because my mission cooperated with the press. He never mentioned this event to me. I am sorry I did not know that.

I did not know about the “Yellow house”

While US diplomat Shaun Byrnes stayed in Kosovo, one journalist was murdered, and three journalists were kidnapped. In total, during and after the war, 14 journalists were kidnapped and murdered. International missions have failed to carry out an effective investigation, and killers and kidnappers are still at large.

As for the report by the Swiss Senator Dick Marty, Byrnes claims that he never heard of the “Yellow house.”

– Dick Marty’s report surprised me. I left Kosovo in August 1999, and I never heard rumors about a Yellow house or organ trade. But I was aware, as did the NATO commander Michael Jackson, representatives of other missions, and especially the British, that people were disappearing that summer, mostly in the region of Metohija. This was reported to us by the NATO troops, the Germans who were in Prizren, the Spaniards and the Italians in Pec, so we knew that something was happening. Our pretension was that it was a retribution. This violence was expected because it was a historical phenomenon and that there were attempts to prevent it. Marti’s report offers possible explanation, but I do not know if these things are true.

I am not an optimist

Noting that all families, regardless of their ethnicity, deserve to know the truth, Byrnes is not optimistic that Snežana will ever find out what exactly happened to her husband.

– It is clear to me that both of them died, but how did that happen, whether they were kidnapped in Velika Hoča and taken away, this can be only found out if someone who was in the KLA stepps forward and says that, but I doubt that this will happen. Another, very foggy possibility is that when the Special Court in The Hague conducts its own investigation, it could find some information. But this is farfetched, concludes the interlocutor of the UNS Dossier.

Support to the UNS

– Since June 1999, for both the United States and for the NATO, situation in Kosovo has been officially normalized. After that, Western media agencies withdrew, so there were no foreign journalists in Kosovo who would put pressure on our, but also diplomatic representatives of the Great Britain, France or Russia, international organizations, and especially UNMIK. They were not there to ask the questions you are asking. This means that the capitals in the West have been informed via the embassies, and the quality of those reports can vary.  And when a mission like UNMIK does not feel pressured by either the media or the member states, then the problem is put aside. It is important that the Journalists’ Association of Serbia speaks about this problem and put pressure on the international authorities – says Byrnes.