By: Katarina Kratovac, Associated Press Writer
(AP) A Serbian human rights activist on Monday questioned whether USA Today reporter Jack Kelley, who resigned under scrutiny for his reporting, actually saw a key document he cited as a source.
Kelley stepped down earlier this month amid questions about his reporting, including his claims that he was shown an order by the army of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for a killing spree in a Kosovo village.
Forty-four ethnic Albanians were killed or burned alive in Cusk village by Serb troops May 14, 1999. The massacre came at the peak of Milosevic’s crackdown against Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians. A month later, NATO’s bombing ended the crackdown and expelled Serb troops from the province.
Kelley, according to news reports in the United States, claimed he saw a typed order from army headquarters in Belgrade to “cleanse” the village, printed on official stationery as part of a black-bound notebook belonging to a Yugoslav officer.
The order, according to Kelley, was crucial evidence linking Milosevic to Kosovo atrocities.
Kelley alleged he saw the document during an interview with Natasa Kandic, of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, after the fighting ended. The notebook was retrieved by U.N. tribunal investigators in Kosovo.
Kandic, however, said the notebook was only seen by herself, U.N. investigators and ethnic Albanian rebels of the Kosovo Liberation Army who fought Milosevic’s troops and initially discovered the notebook.
It was a handwritten notebook, bound in red, not black, and contained no printed documents, Kandic said.
Kandic said she could not specifically remember talking to Kelley but did not specifically say she didn’t, pointing out that she talked to scores of reporters after the Kosovo war and could not recall each one. She disputed his description of the notebook.
“I just don’t remember talking to Kelley,” Kandic told The Associated Press. “I don’t know why he saw the need to say he saw the notebook during an interview with me. But the undisputed facts are that the massacre took place and that this notebook exists.”
The document is now in the possession of the prosecutors of The Hague tribunal, Kandic said.
A 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist, Kelley had reported from scores of war zones for over a decade. His reporting was investigated for seven months by USA Today last year, without conclusions over whether any embellishment or fabrication took place.