Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kosovo: Pathologist Tells of Civilian Killings

More than 100 Kosovo Albanians were gunned down in the village of Izbica, says witness.
By Aleksandar Roknić

A pathologist who examined the bodies of more than 100 Albanians who died in an attack on the Kosovo village of Izbica this week told the Hague trial of six former Serbian high-ranking officials that the majority were civilians who had been shot by automatic weapons.

Gordana Tomasevic from the Belgrade Army Medical Academy, VMA, said it was the former chief of the general staff of the Yugoslav Army, Nebojsa Pavkovic, who ordered her to conduct the post mortems, nearly two months after their deaths in March 1999.

According to the indictment against Pavkovic, Milan Milutinovic, Nikola Sainovic, Dragoljub Ojdanic, Sreten Lukic and Vladimir Lazarevic, 4,500 villagers from Izbica and the surrounding area found refuge in a meadow when Yugoslav forces shelled the village on March 27. One hundred and sixteen men were separated from the women and children and killed the following day by Serbian troops near the village, the indictment says.

The six are accused of responsibility for war crimes in Kosovo during 1998 and 1999, including the killing of hundreds of Kosovo Albanians and the forcible transfer of an estimated 800,000.

The indictment alleges that to cover the events in Izbica, Serbian forces buried the bodies, which were later exhumed and transported to a different location.

Tomasevic said she was told by Pavkovic at a meeting in a hotel in Pristina on May 22 to perform the post mortems.

When she asked him for a written order from an investigating judge, he told her there wasn’t one and that he was in charge in Pristina.

She said she examined 101 bodies from June 3-6 in a hangar in Kosovska Mitrovica. Most were badly decomposed, and automatic weapons had killed all but one. The majority were civilians, with only five wearing the black uniforms of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

A colleague told Tomasevic they came from a single grave.

Tomasevic made a report on her findings, but said no one ever asked to see it. She eventually handed over the documentation to the Belgrade First Municipal Court in December 2003.

A former member of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission, KVM, Richard Ciaglinski, was the week’s other witness.

He denied claims by defense lawyers that the KVM “directly or indirectly” supported the KLA in the period before NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia on March 24, 1999.

“The Kosovo Verification Mission didn’t support the KLA. We did everything to convince them to stop arming and attacking,” said Ciaglinski, a former British colonel.

He claimed that the VJ and Serbian police used disproportional force in clashes with KLA and during attacks on Kosovo villages, but said the KVM saw both sides attacking civilians.

In his previous testimony, Ciaglinski said that Yugoslav Army colonel Milan Kotur told him that Serbian forces would soon attack the KLA and that “when they were finished … would dislodge all Albanians from Kosovo”. He claims that Kotur gave him a military map showing VJ and Serbian police attack plans against the KLA.

Djuro Cepic, who is defending Lazrevic, insisted that 183 civilians, policeman and soldier were killed during the KVM’s time in Kosovo. Ciaglinski denied this, saying they died after the KVM left.

The trial continues next week.

Aleksandar Roknic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.


More IWPR's Global Voices

Amid Pandemic, Cuban State Curbs Its Entrepreneurs
The crackdown on street vendors selling basic goods means people have to join long queues in government-run shops.
Cuba's Elderly Work Through the Pandemic
Cuba Slow to Act Over Domestic Abuse