news 14 Nov 17

Kosovo Witnesses Testify About Beatings, Murders by Serb Forces

Kosovo Albanian witnesses at the trial of Zoran Vukotic, a former Serb policeman charged with war crimes in 1999, testified that they were beaten by him and saw him committing murder.

Bahrie Sadiku
BIRN
Mitrovica
The Basic Court in Mitrovica. Photo: Atdhe Mulla.

A witness told Mitrovica Basic Court on Monday at the trial of ex-policeman Zoran Vukotic, who is accused of war crimes against the civilian population in the Vushtrri/Vucitrn area, that a Serbian police officer killed a boy in May 1999.

Witness Bekim Musa said that he was in the village of Studime on May 2, 1999, in a column of Kosovo Albanians moving towards Vushtrri, as the Serbian police had ordered them to do.

“My uncle’s wife had a bag, and while a boy was helping her, a policeman wearing uniform came and caught this boy, dragged away and killed him,” the witness said.

He testified that he had seen others killed as well.

“I myself saw people killed on a tractor,” said Musa.

Musa said that he was imprisoned with his brother, and Vukotic had forced the two of them to beat each other.

“Zoran forced me to beat my brother Shukriu,” he said.

“They got us face-to-face as if in the ring and we were told to beat each other. We started kicking a bit, then Zoran hit me with a slap and told me ‘more’. After that I told my brother, ‘you better beat me or they will beat us’, and we started beating each other,” the witness added.

Answering prosecutor Paul Flynn’s questions about how the inmates in the Smrekonica prison, where Kosovo Albanians were held, were behaving when Vukotic was on duty, the witness said there were prisoners who in order to avoid mistreatment did not even eat in the prison’s kitchen.

He mentioned another incident when he said he was beaten by Vukotic.

“Zoran beat me on my hands with a baton when I went in the kitchen to eat,” the witness said.

Musa also said he heard that Vukotic had forced a prisoner to beat his father.

Shukri Musa, the brother of Bekim Musa, also testified at Monday’s hearing.

He said that Serbian forces separated women and children from the men in a column that was moving towards the villages of Vushtrri/Vucitrn in a local agricultural cooperative.

He added that afterwards, the men were taken to Smrekonica prison in trucks.

Musa testified that the detainees were not given food at the prison for four days.

“After four days they brought us one kilogramme of salt and each of us got a bit of it in our hands and we continued that day with water,” he said.

Vukotic is charged with war crimes against the civilian population.

According to the indictment, between May 2 and 3, 1999, in his capacity as a reserve police officer from the police station in Vushtrri/Vucitrn, in co-perpetration with other members of Serb forces, he participated in an attack on Albanian civilians who were travelling in a column from the village of Upper Studime to Lower Studime near Vushtrri/Vucitrn.

According the indictment, the civilians were deliberately subjected to brutal murders, inhuman treatment and deportation.

Vukotic pleaded not guilty at the first hearing in the trial on May 2017.

A witness at the previous hearing in the trial on Thursday, Shaip Gerxhaliu, claimed that a 14-year-old boy was shot by Vukotic.

“At the moment when Zoran targeted Rexhep Mulaku [an Albanian civilian], a boy running away from other policemen touched Zoran’s arm. His gun fell on the ground while the belt [of the gun] remained on his neck. He strangled the boy saying: ‘You’re even trying to escape?’” Gerxhaliu testified.

“He [Vukotic] took him [the boy] behind a tractor, dragging him by his clothes. I heard the boy saying several times: ‘For God’s sake don’t kill me, I’m only 14,’” the witness continued.

“After this, the boy started running into a field. He [Vukotic] shot off rounds [of bullets]. The boy put his hands up and fell on the ground on his face. He [Vukotic] went closer to this boy and shot him once again, closer. I’m sure he shot him in the head,” Gerxhaliu told the Mitrovica Basic Court.

Gerxhaliu also testified about violence on May 2 and 3, 1999, when Albanian civilians were being ejected from their homes by Serb forces.

He claimed he was beaten by Vukotic.

“With the second group [of Serb forces] came Zoran Vukotic, who I knew [earlier]. Immediately after I saw him and recognised him, I went three metres [in distance] from my tractor. He saw me… and cursed my mother,” said Gerxhaliu.

During Thursday’s hearing, another witness, Fatmir Parduzi, claimed that the Serb forces separated all men who were aged from 14 to 65 from the women and children and took them to Smrekonica prison on May 3, 1999.

The witness said their ill-treatment started when they got to the prison.

“When we started eating, Zoran [Vukotic] would come, hit the table with his hand and say: ‘Stand up!’” said Parduzi.

He also said there were beatings in the prison, and accused Vukotic of urging the prisoners to beat one another up.

Vukotic was extradited from Montenegro to Kosovo in November 2016.

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