News 29 Mar 13

Serb Policemen Acquitted in American KLA Fighters Case

Serbia’s appeals court upheld a verdict finding two policemen not guilty of war crimes against the Bitici brothers, three Kosovo Liberation Army volunteers from the US who were killed in 1999.

Marija Ristic

The appeals court in Belgrade on Thursday confirmed last year’s verdict which acquitted Sreten Popovic and Milos Stojanovic of unlawfully detaining the three Bitici brothers and keeping them in inhumane conditions in Serbia.

The brothers - US citizens of Albanian origin who had volunteered to fight for the Kosovo Liberation Army against Serbian forces - were later killed.

The court rejected a prosecution appeal that argued Stojanovic and Popovic allowed the brothers to be executed by unknown persons.

According to the indictment, Popovic, a former police commander, ordered his subordinate, Stojanovic, to illegally take the Bitici brothers from a police station in south Serbia to a police training camp in Petrovo Selo in eastern Serbia, on July 8, 1999.

The indictment alleged that Stojanovic and Popovic knew that someone intended to kill the three brothers, but the two policemen nevertheless delivered them to their executioners, who then killed them and threw their bodies into a mass grave.

The brothers were members of the Atlantic Brigades, a volunteer unit of the Kosovo Liberation Army formed in the United States. 

The Atlantic Brigades were established in March 1999 in New York and had around 400 members, mostly of Albanian descent.

The three brothers were arrested by the Serbian authorities in 1999 and held in prison for illegally crossing the border between Albania and the former Yugoslavia.

Their bodies were found in 2001 in a mass grave in Petrovo Selo.

The Bitici case has been closely monitored by the US government, which strongly urged Serbia to find the perpetrators.

“We expect the Serbian authorities to bring to justice all individuals at all levels who are responsible for their deaths without further delay. Those who gave the orders, oversaw the killings, and ordered the subsequent cover-up have yet to be arrested and prosecuted,” said the US state department after the acquittal verdict in May last year.

Thursday’s verdict was final, the case has been closed and cannot be sent for retrial.

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