Headline: I FORGIVE YOU FOR KILLING DAD
Daily Record, 16/04/1999, p4&5
by Shaun Milne
A GIRL of 12 who saw her father die in the NATO bombing of the refugee convoy said yesterday: “Please tell the pilot I forgive him.”
Arlinda Bajrami, who was trying to comfort her widowed mother and look after her little brother and sisters, refused to blame anyone.
She said: “The man who killed my daddy must feel very bad. I feel very bad too but it will not help to hate him.
“We want people to help us go home. My father was a good man and a good father, he wanted our country to be free. I feel very sad but I’m not angry. I know they didn’t mean it.”
Father Ferat, 35, was driving the leading tractor in the convoy which was attacked by an F-16.
Arlinda was travelling behind in an open trailer with her mother Xhevrije, 28, her four younger sisters and brother, and about 20 others.
They were at the front of a half-mile exodus of tractors and trailers heading for the border.
Arlinda said: “We heard an aeroplane overhead. It was flying low. My mother was scared by the noise.
“A bomb exploded close to the tractors and we all screamed and huddled together. We crouched as low as we could. My father speeded up to try and get away.
“The plane came back and we saw his cab explode. We were all watching. One of my sisters screamed, ‘Daddy is dead’. His tractor was blown over and he was underneath in the wreckage.
“We were all crying. We could see he was hurt in the back of the head. My mother grabbed my baby sister and made us run. We didn’t want to leave him but she told us to hide under a bridge.”
Just 15 minutes before the pilot dropped his bombs, Arlinda’s father had stopped his tractor and come to see his family was all right. His last words to them were: “Don’t worry – in four hours we will be safe.”
Shortly after the explosions, Serb soldiers came with trucks to take the dead and wounded to Prizren Hospital, seven miles away.
Serb officials updated casualty figures to say 75 people died and 25 were injured.
Arlinda’s mother was too shocked to speak when we told her NATO admitted bombing the convoy.
She kept shaking her head in disbelief. It was almost too much to bear on top of the shock of losing her husband of 14 years and having to leave her home in the village of Batusha.
She kept repeating how the Serbs would not let her hold her husband’s body. She had tried to go to him but they stopped her and she watched as they lifted his body on to a truck and drove away.
After a few minutes, she took my hand and said: “I cannot blame NATO. They are trying to help us. If this is true that NATO killed my husband, I will forgive them.”
In a refugee camp in Kukes – where 1500 people spent the night after walking the rest of the way from the tractor convoy – the reaction to yesterday’s apology by NATO was disbelief.
People here have so much faith in the Allied forces helping them go back to their homes that it was hard for them to take.
Earlier in the day, most people were convinced it was the Serbs who had bombed them.
But when it sank in that those who were supposed to be helping were responsible, they were completely genuine in their forgiveness of NATO.
Ferat’s 64-year-old mother went to him and placed a rolled-up coat under her son’s head.
Rukmane Bajrami watched him die yet she came out of her tent to say to us: “The sacrifice of my son will be worth it if it frees Kosovo for my grandchildren. NATO is trying to help us.
“The pilot will suffer as much as us. We do not want him to feel bad. He was trying to help us.”
The family are living together in a small white tent. Everything they had was destroyed and they have only the clothes they are wearing. They will never know where their father and husband is buried.
Ajmone Sylaj, 37, carried her bleeding 10-year-old son Ardian in her arms from the back of the same tractor. As she held him, he whispered: “I’m dying, Mummy.”
She said: “He was so pale and cold. His face was burnt, his thigh was gaping open, his chest was bleeding. He was getting colder and colder.
“A Serb soldier took him from me and put him in a truck. I couldn’t go with him because I had to look after my other five children. My husband is missing in Kosovo.”
Even she did not blame anyone and wasn’t bitter.
Yet she doesn’t know if her son is alive or dead.
Yesterday in Kukes, the refugees’ message was that NATO must carry on their air campaign.
As grieving Arlinda put an arm round her mother, she said: “Tell NATO they must not stop because my father is dead. He would want them to carry on and free Kosovo.”
But nothing could truly deflect from the shock and anguish felt by the survivors.
After three days on the road, Dibran Asmani had only a few miles to travel before the sanctuary of Albania.
Then, perched on the back of one of the tractors, the 80-year-old’s entire world exploded in front of him. He lost his family and hope.
Dibran said: “Suddenly, there was a big blast and I started running. All I could think was, ‘My God, NATO is bombing us’.
“I ran through the field like a mouse. I’m ashamed but I’m too old to lie about it.”
Dibran’s wife and daughter were in the convoy, along with his daughter-in-law and three children.
Tears rolling down his craggy face, he said: “I don’t know what happened to them. They might be dead. I don’t know.”