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

Milosevic 'Planned' Kosovo Deportation

Prosecution says Milosevic was "controlling force" behind a "concerted effort" to expel Albanians from Kosovo.
By Anthony Borden

"Your views about the tribunal are now completely irrelevant."


With this sharp rebuke, presiding judge Richard May once again silenced a defiant Slobodan Milosevic, after losing patience with the defendant's continued attempts to evade engagement with the prosecution case on the second day of his trial.


"We have become more convinced that not only is [this court] partial but that your prosecutor has already proclaimed my sentence and my judgment," Milosevic insisted, in his first remarks at the trial.


"It has orchestrated a media campaign which along with this illegal tribunal is a parallel lynch process." He accused the judge of failing to respond to his arguments that his arrest and detention were illegal, and that another court must review the legality of the tribunal itself.


The judge, referring to his own written ruling of November 8, 2001, noted that "the matters you are choosing to address . . . we have already ruled on - which you would know if you bothered to read the papers we have given you".


The heated exchange in the final minutes of the day's proceedings could not have contrasted more sharply with the harrowing (if not always new) details of atrocities in Kosovo outlined by the prosecution.


Chief trial attorney Geoffrey Nice alleged that the primary crime was "a wholesale and concerted effort to round up and deport as many Kosovo Albanians as possible". Killings and other violence were part of that plan, in order to compel others to flee, and the "controlling force" was Milosevic himself.


Completing his opening remarks, Nice outlined the run-up to the war with NATO, launched March 24. Throughout the preceding months, with reports of more and more killings of Kosovo Albanians and destruction of their villages, Western diplomats warned the Yugoslav president that these were criminal acts.


A joint command had been created for the province, under then Yugoslav deputy prime minister Nikola Sainovic, giving Milosevic control over the federal ministry of defence, the Yugoslav army, the ministry of the interior, and local defence units within Kosovo.


Convinced that Serbia was on a collision course with NATO which would result in the destruction of the Yugoslav army, General Momcilo Perisic, then the army chief of staff, confirmed, according to the prosecution, that the "situation in Kosovo was the result of one man's actions". Even senior Serbian officials urged the Yugoslav president to avoid atrocities.


Yet throughout this period, according to the prosecution, Milosevic followed a clear pattern: denying reports of civilian massacres and expulsions, replacing top military and political officials who expressed any unease over the policy (including Perisic himself), and boasting to senior Western military officials that he could quickly resolve the Kosovo problem through military means.


Setting up a large "deportation map", Nice pointed out a series of blue dots throughout the province, marking a dozen expulsions of Kosovo Albanians on Mach 24-27. Completing a similar exercise, with similar dates, on a "killings map", Nice concluded, "Can there be any doubt from that simple coincidence of dates that what was happening was an overall and planned deportation?"


Dirk Ryneveld, lead prosecutor on the Kosovo case, followed with more detail, outlining some of the specific incidents, and extraordinary circumstances out of which evidence would be revealed.


One trial witness is a young boy, among dozens shot at 17 Milos Ilic Street, in Djakovica, who was unable to help his sister, trapped and crying out underneath the body of their dead mother. When Serb forces torched the house, he could not rescue her, but managed somehow himself to survive.


In another case, two women and a child, left for dead after a massacre of around twenty people, crammed into a coffee shop in Suva Reka, escaped by rolling themselves off a truck full of the victims, which was heading towards a mass grave. One of the women will testify.


Other evidence would, of necessity, be more scientific. Of the nearly 50 people from the Berisha family killed that day in Suva Reka, one was a 24-year-old woman, eight month's pregnant. Two years later, when mass reburial sites were discovered at Batajnica, outside Belgrade, various details identified bodies of people last seen at Suva Reka - among them a late-term foetus.


"The same pattern happens at the same time in different municipalities all over Kosovo," concluded Ryneveld. "Attacks included verbal abuse, threats of violence, removal of identification, killing of livestock, killing of men, destruction of religious sites and herding women and children into trains and buses and forcing them to flee."


And when Serb authorities feared their crimes would be discovered, they dug up the bodies, and transported them in refrigerator trucks to Serbia to try to conceal the atrocities.


"All the events into which this chamber will have to inquire point towards a central personality, the existence a controlling human force," concluded Nice. "When you have examined all the evidence, the silhouette of that personality, the full-faced view of that personality at the centre of these events, is unmistakably that of the accused."


Unfortunately for the case, the historical record, and ultimately perhaps for the defendant himself, the one person almost certain not to examine that evidence, and challenge it in detail, is the accused.


Anthony Borden is executive director of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.


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