By Ana Uzelac in The Hague (TU No 402, 15-Apr-05)


By Ana Uzelac in The Hague (TU No 402, 15-Apr-05)

Friday, 18 November, 2005

But the witness took issue with the author’s earlier, pre-publication assessment of the findings - that the victims were probably unarmed civilians.

Finnish forensic scientist Helena Ranta came out with this conclusion at a press conference shortly after completing the Racak investigation, but it did not appear in her team’s report published two years later in a scientific magazine.

The defence witness, Slavisa Dobricanin, a former high-ranking forensic pathologist in Pristina, was grilled for two days on his earlier testimony that 45 Albanians murdered in the Kosovo village in January 1999 were guerrilla fighters killed in battle.

Dobricanin, a former high-ranking forensic pathologist in Pristina, conducted the examination of the bodies of the Albanians found in Racak, which were discovered following a Serbian police action the day before.

Some 25 were discovered in a gully, shot at what appeared to be close range – prompting international observers to conclude the men were mainly civilians killed execution-style by the Serbian security forces. The Serbian government, however, claimed they were guerrillas, whose bodies were moved to the gully to stage a massacre.

The incident led to increased diplomatic pressure on Milosevic’s government to find a solution for the smouldering Kosovo problem. And when this failed, NATO air strikes were launched, marking the beginning of his political demise.

The Racak incident, the first of the 17 separate massacres listed in Milosevic’s Kosovo indictment, seems to be the focus of his defence case.

In earlier testimony, Dobricanin claimed the men killed in Racak were probably Albanian insurgents based in the village, and partially challenged the report drawn by the Finnish forensic team that, on EU request, examined the scene in Racak roughly a month after the incident. .

The team’s head, Ranta, testified in front of the Hague tribunal in 2003. This week she followed the cross examination from the public gallery, after she was asked to travel to The Hague in order to be available to the prosecution and the defence.

Prosecutors got confirmation from Dobricanin that he had “no clear disagreement” with her team’s report. The problems, the witness admitted, arose in an earlier press conference held by Ranta when, referring to her research, she said there was “no evidence that these people were not civilians”.

“These very words pointed that these were in fact unarmed civilians and pointed that a horrible crime [has taken place],” he said.

“She had no right to state that,” he later added.

Dobricanin claimed that the Serbian forensic team had discovered nitrate particles on the hands of 37 out of 40 bodies recovered from Racak – suggesting, but not proving, that they may have fired guns and other weapons in the hours before they were killed. Immediately afterwards, however, he had to concede that he didn’t think the Finnish team ever received the results of these tests.

Dobricanin also admitted the test for nitrate particles was not enough to conclusively prove the Albanians had fired weapons – but was the best the Serbian forensics had to go by, since the country could not afford other more reliable methods.

NATO air strikes, which started at the end of March, prevented the findings from being included in the Serbian official report on Racak, the witness said. The original documents were allegedly destroyed when a bomb hit the police building in Pristina.

Prosecutor David Saxon managed to raise doubt about whether the tests were done properly, pointing out that documents presented to the court this week showed the victims were fingerprinted while in Racak. This carried the risk of contaminating their hands with nitrate particles present there. Dobricanin vehemently denied this and said the stated date of fingerprinting was a mistake.

Other smaller elements of Dobricanin’s testimony were also challenged.

Earlier, he had said the bodies of the 40 people killed in Racak were dressed in several layers of clothes, suggesting that they were set for a long stay outdoors, usual for anyone engaged in combat activities. But Saxon led him through various convoluted questions to show that the witness, too, wore more than one layer of clothes in those days.

“So should we draw any other conclusion … other than that it was cold?” the prosecutor asked.

The witness also insisted that the dark colour of clothes worn by the victims suggested they were in fact members of at least some sort of home guard. But the prosecutors showed pictures of the victims in which some were wearing light clothes.

Though Dobricanin insisted he saw no traces of artillery fire in the village when he visited it on the day after the attack, Saxon showed him a video of the Racak houses, some with traces of fire and one still smouldering.

Dobricanin countered that he did not recognise the houses from his visit and suggested the pictures may not have been taken in Racak.

Similarly, he maintained that the findings of the Finnish forensic team - showing that the bullets were found in the ground next to the bodies - might have been correct, but the scene of the crime could have been tampered with between the deaths and when the team conducted the investigation.

The cross-examination finished with a small victory for Milosevic when judges allowed him to call Dragan Jasovic, a Serbian policeman from Kosovo likely connected to the country’s security services, as a defence witness. Milosevic hopes Jasovic could present results of his investigation suggesting at least 20 of the people killed in Racak were connected to the KLA.

Ironically, Jasovic figures as the prosecution witness in another case held in The Hague – that of Kosovo Albanian guerrilla leader Fatmir Limaj.

Prosecutors told judges that should Jasovic be allowed to appear, they would ask for extra time to investigate the work of the Serbian police in Kosovo and Jasovic in particular.

They hope this investigation could prove that a witness they considered credible in one case, used “improper” methods of obtaining the information he would now use in his Milosevic testimony.

The week ended with testimony from Kosta Bulatovic, a Montenegrin from Kosovo who was a key participant in a Serb movement there that was supportive of Milosevic’s policies in the province.

Ana Uzelac is IWPR’s project manager in The Hague.

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