News 13 Dec 17

US Urges Serbia to Tackle Kosovo Massacre Cover-Up

The US State Department said that those responsible for moving the bodies of Kosovo Albanian civilians killed in the 1999 war to mass graves in Serbia should be brought to justice.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
The US Capitol in Washington DC. Photo: Wikipedia/Architect of the Capitol.

The US State Department said on Tuesday that it has brought a report by the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre NGO about the cover-up of crimes in Kosovo to the attention of Serbia’s recently-appointed war crimes prosecutor.

“We believe that those guilty of moving the bodies of Albanian civilians from Kosovo to clandestine mass graves in Serbia to conceal evidence of earlier massacres should be brought to justice,” said Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, in a response to a question from US Representative Eliot L. Engel.

Engel, who was among the first to have lobbied for Kosovo’s independence, questioned the State Department about whether or not it has asked the government of Serbia how it will prosecute the perpetrators of the massacres, or whether some form of international tribunal will be necessary.

He cited the January 2017 report by the Humanitarian Law Centre, HLC, which detailed mass graves in Serbia containing the bodies of 941 Kosovo Albanians, mainly civilians killed outside combat situations in Kosovo in 1999.

The HLC claimed that 110 people, including senior Serbian officials, remain unprosecuted for removing hundreds of corpses in a bid to cover up massacres during the Kosovo war.

“We have raised the issue with Serbian officials at all levels of government, including with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic,” the State Department replied to Engel.

“In addition, we remind Serbian officials that prosecuting human rights abuses such as these is imperative for Serbia to fulfil its obligations under Chapter 23 of the EU acquis,” it added.

Chapter 23 in the body of European legislation that Serbia has to adopt in order to join the EU concerns the judiciary and fundamental rights.

Tillerson: US ‘frustrated’ about Bytyqi case

In a separate exchange with Engel, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also said that the State Department shares his “frustration” with the lack of progress in the case of the Bytyqi brothers, three US citizens of Albanian origin who were murdered in 1999.

Ylli, Agron and Mehmet Bytyqi were captured by the Serbian police on the border with Kosovo after the war ended while helping a Roma family to escape Kosovo.

Their bodies were later found in a mass grave at a police training centre in Petrovo Selo in eastern Serbia.

Three sources told BIRN earlier this year that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said during a visit to Washington in 2015 that former high-ranking police officer Goran ‘Guri’ Radosavljevic and another, unknown person were responsible for the killings.

Radosavljevic is a member of the executive board of Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party.

BIRN reported in 2015 that evidence gathered by Serbian investigators, the FBI and the Bytyqi family’s lawyers suggested that the suspected perpetrators have been known to the Belgrade authorities for years.

Radosavljevic, who now runs several security companies in Belgrade, was briefly investigated over the crime by the Serbian prosecution, but never indicted.

He has denied any involvement in the killings.

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