News 31 Mar 15

Serbian Fighters’ Kosovo Massacre Convictions Overturned

A verdict convicting nine former Serbian fighters of killing more than 118 Albanians near the Kosovo town of Pec/Peja in 1999 was annulled and the case sent for retrial.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade

The Belgrade-based appeals court on Tuesday annulled what it called the “incomprehensible and contradictory” verdict, saying that the facts had not been adequately established to convict the nine former members of the Yugoslav Army’s 177th Intervention Squad.

It said that the Belgrade special court, which convicted the men in February 2014, “failed to provide explanations” for its verdict.

“The reasons given for the sentencing are unclear,” it added, ordering the case to be back for retrial.

The special court last year found the nine men guilty of killing over 118 Albanian civilians in April and May 1999 during attacks on four villages in Kosovo.

Former Yugoslav Army commander Toplica Miladinovic was sentenced to 20 years in prison for ordering the unit’s commander Nebojsa Minic to launch the attacks on the villages of Ljubenic, Pavlan, Zahac and Cuska, all in the area of the Kosovo town of Pec/Peja. Minic, whose nickname was ‘Mtrvi’ (‘Dead’), died of AIDS in Argentina in 2005.

Two other fighters from the unit, Dejan Bulatovic and Milojko Nikolic, were also sentenced to 20 years in jail, while Ranko Momic was given 15 years.

Abdulah Sokic was sentenced to 12 years, Srecko Popovic to 10 years and Sinisa Misic to five years.

Of the other men on trial, Slavisa Kastratovic and Boban Bogicevic were given two years each, while Radoslav Brnovic and Veljko Koricanin were acquitted.

The special court judge said that the fighters were not paramilitaries, as was suggested by the prosecution at the beginning of the trial, but regular members of the Yugoslav Army who all had military ID cards and received salaries from the army.

The defendants had insisted that they were innocent, saying that they were patriots defending their country from terrorists.

The case was considered one of the largest ever relating to Kosovo war crimes in the Belgrade courts, with hearings lasting for four years.

In August 2014, the Serbian war crimes prosecution also launched an investigation against Dragan Zivanovic, the former commander of the Yugoslav Army’s 125th Brigade, for allegedly doing nothing to prevent the murders of the Albanians and the destruction of homes and property in the four villages. So far however no indictment has been issued.

Three other members of the Yugoslav Army’s 177th Intervention Squad, Vladan Krstovic, Lazar Pavlovic and Milan Ivanovic, are also currently on trial at the Belgrade special court over the killings in Ljubenic.

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