News 19 Jul 12

Belgrade Remembers Victims from Orahovac

A remembrance service for those killed when the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, occupied the town of Orahovac in Kosovo in 1998 was held in Belgrade on Wednesday.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade
Photo by Beta

A religious memorial service has been held in the church of St Prokopije in Belgrade, commemorating 47 Serbian civilians from the Orahovac area who where killed by the KLA in July 1998.

The families of the victims and human rights activists laid flowers on the graves and at the monument called “Unknown”, dedicated to the victims who could not be identified because they were burned. 

In 1998, between July 11 and July 28, the KLA attacked and occupied the town of Orahovac and its surrounding villages - Retimlje, Opterusa, Zociste and Velika Hoca- in western Kosovo.

During the occupation 47 people were killed, while over a hundred Serbs and Roma were kidnapped.

The families of the victims chose July 18 as a commemoration day as it is the date  when  the most serious attack took place fourteen years ago. During the attack five people were killed, 35 abducted, while Serb civilians were expelled from the villages of Retimlje and Opterusa.

Sixty of those kidnapped were later freed by the International Red Cross.

The remains of the victims were found in 2005, in two mass graves located in Kosovo.

The associations of the families of the missing Serbs send an open letter on Wednesday addressed to the EU rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, the KFOR and Pristina authorities, requesting those responsible for this crime to be brought to justice.

Town of Orahovac I Photo by Wikicommons

“There is enough evidence and witnesses in order to bring the perpetrators to justice. Old men and women, children and young people were forcibly taken from their homes, work places and streets,” reads the letter.

“Under the threat of death, the KLA forced them to leave their homes. Their houses, graves and their sanctuaries were burned and destroyed so that the Serbs could never return,” it adds.

The case “Orahovac 1998” had been first investigated by the Hague Tribunal, ICTY, but no charges were filed. Later, the case was handed over to the UN Mission in Kosovo, which subsequently transferred it to the EU rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, EULEX.

In September 2010, EULEX launched an investigation which in April 2011 resulted in the arrest of two Kosovo Albanians. However, they are currently on trial for expelling non Albanian civilians from the area of Orahovac, but not for the killings.

The Serbian Office of the Prosecutor for War Crimes investigated the case, but due to lack of evidence against one of the suspects the case was dropped.  

After the conflicts in 1998 and 1999 in Kosovo, out of the 5,200 Serbs living in the town of Orahovac only 500 remained, making the town and surrounding village Velika Hoca one of the few Serb populated enclaves in western Kosovo.

 

 

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