News 27 Nov 17

Serbia Ends Probe of Army General for Kosovo Atrocities

The Serbian war crimes prosecution has ended its investigation into retired Yugoslav Army general Dragan Zivanovic, shutting down the only known probe of a top official in Serbia for Kosovo war crimes.

Marija Ristic BIRN Belgrade
Relatives of victims in Cuska, Kosovo hold pictures of the deceased at a funeral. Photo: Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch.

The Serbian war crimes prosecutor’s office has confirmed to BIRN in a letter that its investigation into retired Yugoslav Army general Dragan Zivanovic has been terminated.

Zivanovic, who during the Kosovo war was a commander of the Yugoslav Army’s 125th Motorised Brigade, had been under investigation since August 2014.

He is the only general who has been officially investigated in Serbia for war crimes so far.

According to the prosecution’s statement in 2014, it was “suspected that from April 1, 1999 until May 15, 1999, [Zivanovic] committed war crimes against civilians in the [Kosovo] villages of Cuska, Pavljan, Zahac and Ljubenic by failing to prevent the murder of at least 118 Albanian civilians, the wounding of 13 and the destruction of at least 40 houses, [as well as] robberies and expulsions”.

Zivanovic issued an order on April 24, 1999 to his brigade’s units to establish military control over the villages of Zahac and Cuska, as it was believed that Kosovo Liberation Army fighters were hiding there.

But the prosecution argued in 2014 that Zivanovic was aware that these units, such as the 177th Intervention Squad, would also kill civilians, loot property and expel the population while following this order.

The prosecution also said that several soldiers already convicted of war crimes in these villages acted under Zivanovic’s command, including Toplica Miladinovic, Milojko Nikolic and Dejan Bulatovic, who were sentenced to 20 years in prison in a first-instance verdict.

Their case is now on appeal, after it was sent for retrial in 2015. Nikolic has died in the meantime, while Bulatovic’s case has been separated from the others because he fell ill.

BIRN reported on these crimes in the documentary film ‘The Unidentified’ which reveals the scale of the crimes committed in the four Kosovo villages in 1999, while also uncovering the command structure of the police and army units involved in the crimes.

Interviews with victims, former soldiers and experts, plus documentation from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY shows that the attack on the villages was part of a planned operation.

The ICTY has convicted six Serbian state and military officials of wartime crimes in Kosovo, while Serbia has focused on prosecuting direct perpetrators of crimes in the Kosovo towns of Podujevo and Suva Reka and the villages of Cuska, Pavlan, Zahac and Ljubenic.

The crimes in Cuska and the surrounding villages were initially documented in 1999 by Human Rights Watch, which identified some of the direct perpetrators who were charged in Serbia in 2011, and whose trial is still ongoing before Belgrade’s Higher Court.

BIRN’s documentary ‘The Unidentified’ is available for streaming here:

The Unidentified from BIRN on Vimeo.

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