Criminal Complaint Filed Against Members of VJ and MUP Serbia Accused of War Crimes Against Albanian Civilians in the Villages of Zahać/Zahaq and Plavljan/Pavlan

On August 23, 2010 the Humanitarian Law Center filed with the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia a criminal complaint against an unidentified number of members of the former Yugoslav Army (VJ), members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Serbia (MUP Serbia), and members of criminal groups operating under the control of VJ and MUP Serbia for their responsibility for for war crimes committed against Albanians in the villages of Plavljane/Pavlan, Zahać/Zahaq, and other surrounding villages and settlements in the Peć/Pejë municipality during 1998 and 1999.

The criminal complaint was filed against: Dragan Živanović, former commander of the 125th motorized brigade of the VJ; Đorđe Nikolić, former chief-of-staff of the Headquarters of the 125th motorized brigade of the VJ; Toplica Miladinović, former commander of the 177th Military-Territorial battalion of the VJ, who was a direct subordinate of the accused Živanović and Nikolić, and against whom the High Court of Belgrade had already initiated a criminal investigation due to the existence of a reasonable doubt that he had committed a criminal act of war crimes against the civilian population in Kosovo in May 1999; Radoslav Brnović, former commander of the Peć Internal Affairs Department (OUP); Bato Bulatović, former inspector of SUP Peć/Pejë; and a number of other unidentified members of MUP Serbia, VJ, and various other criminal groups formerly under the control of VJ and MUP Serbia, on the basis that there is reasonable doubt that these individuals had committed a criminal act of war crimes against the civilian population based on Article 142, paragraph 1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Serbia (KZ SRJ).

The accused individuals are charged with ordering and committing the execution of 49 Albanians during the period of December 1998 to June 1999. In addition to this, these individuals are also charged with the destruction of the Albanians’  property, torture, intimidation, and other crimes aimed at driving the Albanians away from the Peć/Pejë municipality and also from the territory of Kosovo. The worst crimes in the villages of  Plavljane/Pavlan and Zahać/Zahaq were committed on May 14, 1999 when a convoy of fleeing Albanians was stopped by Serbian forces wearing VJ uniforms. These forces singled out 18 Albanians who were riding on trucks or tractors. When the rest of the convoy carrying women, children, and the elderly had left the village, the Serbian soldiers shot to death 17 out of the 18 men they had held back: Ismet Hyseni, Sabit Hiseni, Naim Hyseni, Agim Hyseni, Bajrush Hyseni, Shpend Hyseni, Shaban Rama, Fazliu Dobra, Muhamet Dobra, Halit Dobra, Fehmiu Gjok, Hysena Gjok, Bekim Deli, Zymer Smajlaj, Shaban Smajlaj, Gёzim Cukaj, and Dem Atashi, while Bajram Smajlaj was the only one who survived the execution. On the same day, in the village of Plavljane/Pavlan, the Serbian soldiers forced Albanian civilians out of their homes, plundered their houses, and burned them down. On that occasion they killed ten Albanian civilians: Shaban Kelmendi, Haxhij Dreshaj, Nimon  Gashi, [Agim (Osman) Selmanaj and/or  Agush (Selman) Gashi], Zenun Shala, Muce Lulaj, Zymer Gashi, Vesel Nikqi,  Gjejrane  Nikqi, and Hatixhe Nikqi.
The accused Živanović, Nikolić, and Miladinović, at the time of commiting those crimes, had complete and effective control over all Serbian groups operating in their zone of responsibility of the 125th motorized brigade of the VJ, where the crimes were committed.

The accused Živanović, Nikolić, and Miladinović are criminally responsible not only with respect to their command responsibility, but also on a personal basis for all crimes listed in this criminal complaint. Not only did they fail to stop and prevent the commitment of those crimes, or fail to punish or demand punishment for the perpetrators or for those ordering the commitment of the crimes, but the accussed also personally masterminded, planned, and actively participated in the commitment of all of these crimes, while later also helping to cover up the evidence of the crimes and assisting in harbouring the crimes’ direct perpetrators.

Since some of the accused were apparently co-perpetrators or accomplices in the war crimes committed that same day in the Ćuška/Çishk village, and having in mind that some are already being investigated for the crimes committed in that same village, HLC additionally calls upon the authorities to extend the investigation into the Ćuška/Çishk case to include the persons listed in this new criminal complaint, because of the existence of all legal presumptions to do so.