News 13 Jul 17

US Urged to Pressure Vucic Over Bytyqi Murders

The family of three Albanian-American brothers killed in Serbia in 1999 want US officials to put pressure on President Aleksandar Vucic during his upcoming visit to Washington to resolve the case.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic meets officials during his visit to the US in 2015. Photo: BETA

The family of three US citizens of Albanian origin killed by Serbian forces in 1999 is urging Vice-President Mike Pence to raise the case with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during his visit to the US from July 16-18.

Praveen Madhiraju, the legal representative of the Bytyqi family, told BIRN that the family want Pence to address the issue with Vucic directly, to "ensure that promises to American officials are respected more than those made to protect Goran Radosavljevic".

The Bytyqi family believe Radosavljevic, the former commander of a special police unit and of the Petrovo Selo training centre, where the three brothers were detained before being killed, is the main suspect in the case.

Radosavljevic is now retired, but remains active in politics as a member of the executive board of Vucic’s ruling Progressive Party.

He has been interrogated in relation to the Bytyqi brothers’ deaths, but an indictment against him has not been issued. He has denied any involvement in the crime.

"President Vucic has the ability to move the case forward," said Madhiraju.

But he said that the family will regard any promises or information Vucic offers with extreme scepticism, as should US officials.

Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi went to fight for the Kosovo Liberation Army against Belgrade’s forces and were arrested by Serbian police after the war ended when they strayed over an unmarked boundary line between Serbia and Kosovo.

After serving their sentences for illegal border crossing, they were re-arrested as they were leaving the district prison in the town of Prokuplje in southern Serbia, taken to the police training centre in Petrovo Selo, and detained in a warehouse there.

They were then tied up with wire by unknown persons and driven to a garbage disposal pit, where they were executed with shots to the back of the neck on July 9, 1999.

The Bytyqi family has accused Vucic of repeatedly breaking promises to resolve the case and of refusing to keep the family up to date with the investigation.

They also alleged that Vucic has "falsely paraded out 'new evidence' before important diplomatic milestones", taken no credible steps to encourage and protect witnesses, and risked Serbia’s reputation and his own in order to protect Radosavljevic.

The case has continued to be a major bilateral problem between Serbia and the US. Ahead of Vucic’s Washington visit, the US ambassador in Belgrade, Kyle Scott, met the new Serbian war crimes prosecutor to talk about the issue.

"During the talks, the ambassador underlined the US’s concern over the case remaining unresolved," the US embassy said in a statement afterwards, according to Serbian daily newspaper Danas.

"The issue of solving the Bytyqi murders is a test of Serbia’s readiness to accept what it did in Kosovo," said Dusan Janjic from the Forum for Ethnic Relations.

Another outstanding issue between Belgrade and Washington is the burning of the US embassy during the riots that broke out in Belgrade in 2008 after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia.

The public prosecutor filed charges against five police chiefs who were in charge of the force on the day of the riots. The names of the suspects remain secret because the indictments have not yet been confirmed by the court.

Seven participants in the riot are currently undergoing a retrial.

They originally received suspended sentences of six to ten months, but the court of appeals overturned the verdict in 2016.

"The torching of the embassy and the Bytyqi case are very difficult issues. It is possible that he [Vucic] will make some promises [to the US about the resolution of the cases]," said Janjic.

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