Last Despatches: News Team Killed the Day After Kosovo War Ended

It was June 13, 1999, and Uli Reinhardt, a photojournalist from the German news magazine Stern was due to meet his colleague Gabriel Gruener at 6pm in the southern Kosovo city of Prizren.

But Gruener would never arrive for the meeting, and could not be contacted by mobile phone because Kosovo’s telecommunications system had been damaged in the war.

Earlier in the afternoon, Italian journalist Gruener, 35, German photographer Volker Kraemer, 56, and their Albanian interpreter, Shenoll Aliti, 26, had been forced to return from Prizren to Skopje in Macedonia to send their material because they couldn’t send it from Kosovo, where they were covering the deployment of German troops as part of the NATO mission in Kosovo.

It was the first day after peace had been declared, ending the Kosovo war. One day earlier, NATO’s troops had started moving into Kosovo after the Western military alliance’s 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia forced Slobodan Milosevic’s regime to pull out its soldiers and police.

While NATO’s multinational forces were entering, Serbian troops were leaving Kosovo following an agreement between the Yugoslav Army and the Western military alliance. The Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, which had waged a guerrilla war for independence from Yugoslavia, had ended up on the winning side.

While ethnic Albanians had fled Serbian repression during the war, now ethnic Serbs were fleeing, fearing revenge attacks. Journalists on the ground had plenty to cover.

At that point, Stern magazine had two teams of journalists in Kosovo. Gruener was with photographer Kraemer and interpreter Aliti, while his close friend Reinhardt, who was also the founder of the Zeitenspiegel Reportagen co-operative of writers and photographers, was deployed with another team.

Reinhardt said that when he heard the news that Gruener’s team had been hit by an attack, he headed for the village of Duhel/Dulje in the Suhareka/Suva Reka municipality, where it happened.

“When we arrived, there was a lot of blood. While we were walking around the crime scene, a few metres away we saw a body. It was Shenoll Aliti’s body,” he told BIRN.

Gruener, Kraemer and Aliti all died as a result of the attack.

Initially, Stern and the men’s families believed they were killed by Serbian forces as they withdrew from Kosovo, but an investigation revealed that the truth was different. They were shot by a Russian mercenary who had gone to Kosovo to fight on the Serb side.

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