News 06 Nov 13

Serbia Charges Army Officers With Kosovo Killings

The Serbian prosecutor filed charges against two serving army officers for killing 27 Albanian civilians, including elderly people, women and a child, in the Kosovo village of Trnje in 1999.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade
Serbian soldiers I Photo courtesy Ministry of Defence

Serbian Army officers Pavle Gavrilovic and Ranko Kozlin were indicted on Wednesday for the killings of 27 people including a four-year-old boy during the attack on Trnje on March 25, 1999.

Gavrilovic is accused of ordering the attack and saying that “there should be no survivors”, according to the indictment.

A commander of a unit in the Yugoslav Army’s 549th Brigade, Gavrilovic is alleged to have split his men up into three groups, with Kozlin being part of the one of these three, and ordered them to enter the village and ethnically cleanse the area.

The killings in Trnje were also part of a Kosovo war crimes indictment filed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia against six former officials – Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, Yugoslav deputy prime minister Nikola Sainovic, Yugoslav Army commanders Nebojsa Pavkovic and Vladimir Lazarevic, Yugoslav Army general Dragoljub Ojdanic, and Serbian internal affairs minister Sreten Lukic.

All of them except Milutinovic were found guilty of “a broad campaign of violence directed against the Kosovo Albanian civilian population conducted by forces under the control of the [Yugoslav] and Serbian authorities, during which there were incidents of killing, sexual assault, and the intentional destruction of mosques.”

Their actions caused at least 700,000 ethnic Albanians to leave Kosovo between the end of March and the beginning of June 1999.

The case is currently on appeal.

Two members of the 549th Brigade testified anonymously at the Hague trial about the attack on Trnje under the codenames K-32 and K-41.

According to their testimonies, around 80 to 100 soldiers from the brigade entered the village under the command of Gavrilovic, who before the attack pointed the soldiers in the direction of the village, and said, “Today, no one should remain alive here.”

Gavrilovic, who testified for the defence in The Hague, denied the allegations, arguing that he didn’t order the attack.

In its ruling, the trial chamber accepted the testimonies of witnesses K32 and K41, while Gavrilovic’s testimony was described as “unconvincing and unreliable”.

The Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law in March this year published a file containing the most comprehensive documentation of the eight military offensives by the 549th Brigade in Kosovo villages in March and April 1999, which resulted in a total of 885 deaths.

Testimony from witness K41 at the Hague Tribunal:

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