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Witness Testifies About Massacre in South Kosovo

Kosovo Albanian man accuses Yugoslav army of attacking and killing ethnic Albanian civilians.
By Rory Gallivan
A witness in the trial of former Yugoslav army, VJ, general Vlastimir Djordjevic said VJ forces attacked and killed ethnic Albanian civilians and set fire to buildings in his home village during clashes in Kosovo in 1999.

At the Hague tribunal this week, Hazbi Loku, a teacher from Kotline in the south of Kosovo, confirmed previous statements he had made in which he described what he said were VJ attacks on his village on March 9 and 24, 1999.

Loku gave statements about the incidents to the tribunal’s Office of the Prosecution, OTP, in June 1999, as well as during the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2002, and that of ex-Serbian President Milan Milutinovic in 2006.

Djordjevic, who was formerly head of the public security department of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs, MUP, is charged for his part in what prosecutors claim was a “systematic campaign” that resulted in hundreds of deaths and the expulsion of approximately 800,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.

This week, Loku said he stood by his testimony in the Milutinovic trial, in which he said that on March 9, 1999, tanks destroyed houses in Kotline and a whole neighbourhood was burned by the VJ.

He also gave his account of an incident in the village on March 24 of that year during which, he said, the VJ separated women and children from men. After a group of about 20 of the men tried to escape, soldiers captured them and massacred them by pushing them into holes in the ground, which they then threw explosive devices into, he said.

During the Milutinovic trial, Loku named several of the victims of the massacre, and said that he fled Kosovo for Macedonia on the night of March 24.

Some of the names mentioned by the witness appear in the indictment against Djordjevic as people killed in Kotline.

The examination in-chief-of Loku, which was conducted by prosecutor Matthias Neuner, consisted mainly of Neuner submitting previously tendered documents – such as photographs of people identified as victims by Loku – into evidence.

During his cross-examination of the witness, Djordjevic’s lawyer Velkjo Djurdjic sought to show that the alleged massacre victims described by Loku were members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, and not civilians.

He showed photos of tombstones erected for the men who Loku said were killed in the March 24 massacre which bore the insignia of the KLA, and submitted these into evidence.

“To cut a long story short, in all of the photographs there is an engraved coat of the arms of the KLA, isn’t there?” he asked Loku.

Loku – who had earlier testified that one of the men was wearing civilian clothes when killed – confirmed this.

Djurdjic also attempted to cast doubt on a statement Loku previously made to the OTP, in which he said that tanks destroyed houses in Ivaja, a neighbouring village of Kotline, on March 8, 1999.

He asked Loku how he knew this could have happened when he had not been in Ivaja on that day.

Loku said he saw evidence it had happened when he was in the village a few days later.

“I saw the traces of the tracks of the tanks leading up to the houses; the houses that were destroyed were close to the road,” Loku said.

Djurdjic also referred to a statement Loku made in the trial of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, in which the witness referred to fighting between Serb forces and the KLA around Ivaja on March 8.

He quoted Loku as saying, “Thanks to the KLA, the population managed to escape death”, and tendered the portion of the transcript into evidence.

Djurdjic also showed Loku photographs, which were taken during a forensic examination by Serbian authorities in Kotline on March 24, 1999, and which had been used in the Milutinovic trial.

He asked him whether he recognised one of the photos, which had been marked as showing a house believed to be the KLA headquarters in Kotline.

“I can see what is marked on the picture, but this could just be speculation by the Serb forces,” the witness replied.

Djordjevic was originally indicted in 2003 alongside VJ generals Nebojsa Pavkovic and Vladimir Lazarevic and Serbian police general Sreten Lukic. Their case was later joined with that of former Serbian president Milan Milutinovic, Yugoslav army chief of staff Dragoljub Ojdanic and Yugoslav deputy prime minister Nikola Sainovic.

However, the trial of Djordjevic, who was not arrested until 2007, is being conducted separately.

His trial, which began on January 2009, is set to be the tribunal’s last case relating to crimes committed in Kosovo.

In the Milutinovic trial, the former Serbian president was acquitted of crimes against the Kosovo Albanian population, while his five co-defendants were all convicted of some or all of the counts against them.

Rory Gallivan is an IWPR contributor in London.

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