News 26 Oct 17

Survivor Recalls Serbian Forces Torching Kosovo Village

A Kosovo Albanian witness of a massacre in the village of Cuska in May 1999 told a Serbian court that he saw houses being burned and found the bodies of murdered civilians.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Belgrade Special Court. Photo: BIRN.

Witness Mustafa Hisvukaj told Belgrade Special Court on Thursday how he witnessed the aftermath of Serbian forces’ massacre of Kosovo Albanians in the village of Cuska in May 1999.

Hisvukaj told the court that on May 14, he hid in tall grass in the village while Serbian police forces occasionally passed by and eventually entered a local’s house.

“I stayed there for an hour, an hour and a half, until the shooting stopped. After that I entered those rooms and saw burned bodies,” Hisvukaj said.

He described finding three more dead residents in the yard of another local man, Rama Gashi, who was himself killed alongside a large group of other people, Hisvukaj said.

"His son came to the yard where I was and said, ‘They killed my father,’” he told the court, noting that he did not see the killings himself because he was hiding.

Hisvukaj said that “80 per cent” of the homes in Cuska were burned that day, while Serbian forces impounded some vehicles and took all the locals’ valuables from them.

A defence lawyer criticised his testimony, saying that Hisvukaj was speaking about events he did not see personally.

He also claimed Hisvukaj was contradicting other witnesses’ testimonies and established facts.

At the previous hearing in March 2017, two Kosovo Albanian witnesses recalled how they were forcibly expelled from their homes.

The Serbian prosecution has charged 11 former members of the 177th Yugoslav Army Unit for war crimes committed in the Kosovo villages of Cuska, Pavljan, Zahac and Ljubenic in spring 1999.

The group was initially convicted in 2014 and sentenced to 106 years in jail for killing at least 118 Kosovo Albanian civilians.

But the Serbian appeals court reversed the verdict in 2015 and sent the case for a retrial.

Since then the trial has been marked by delays and the refusal of witnesses to come to Belgrade to testify.

Two of the defendants, Milojko Nikolic and Radoslav Brnovic, have passed away during the trial.

One of the other defendants, Dejan Bulatovic, is ill and the case against him has been separated from the rest of the group.

Another one, Ranko Momic, is on the run.

This is considered one of the largest ever cases relating to Kosovo war crimes in the Belgrade courts, with hearings already going on for six years.

The next hearing is scheduled for December 18.

In August 2014, the Serbian war crimes prosecution also launched an investigation into 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.

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