Eleven Years Later OWCP Still Offers no Answer to Question: Who Committed the Most Massive Crime in Kosovo?

Eleven Years Later OWCP Still Offers no Answer to Question: Who Committed the Most Massive Crime in Kosovo?

post_TRZ_11In an interview given on March 5, 2015 to the daily newspaper ‘Novosti’ [*available only in Serbian], the War Crimes Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia Vladimir Vukčević stated that Momir Stojanović, former Chief of Staff of the Military Security Department of the Priština Corps of the Yugoslav Army (VJ), does not appear as even a “possible perpetrator” of war crimes in the investigation into the crimes committed in Meje/Mejës (Kosovo) conducted by the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP). Referring to the arrest warrants issued by Interpol for 17 individuals suspected of having committed war crimes in the Đakovica/Gjakova municipality in Kosovo, Vukčević also claimed that the OWCP does not know what evidence the warrants were based on, but that he is ready to verify the evidence obtained by EULEX.

Bearing in mind that after 11 years of its work on this case and its numerous announcements [*available only in Serbian], the OWCP has still failed to bring to justice any of the perpetrators of the most massive massacre committed during the conflict in Kosovo, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) emphasizes that the allegations made by the War Crimes Prosecutor regarding the results of OWCP’s investigation of the crime in Meje/Mejës, indicate that the OWCP keeps ignoring the evidence and continues to relativize the facts established by the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) with respect to this crime, thus demonstrating the lack of motivation to process this case.

The crime committed against Kosovo Albanians in the village of Meje/Mejës and neighboring villages on April 27, 1999, was the most massive crime committed against civilians during the conflict in Kosovo. In the trial of Vlastimir Đorđević and the so-called ‘’Kosovo Five’’ (Šainović et al Case), the ICTY reconstructed in detail the circumstances surrounding those crimes, including the role of the Serbian Army and Police, the pattern of the crime itself and the subsequent removal of the bodies.

In the early morning hours of April 27, 1999, the Serbian Army and Police began a large-scale operation in the north-west part of the Đakovica/Gjakova municipality (Reka Valley/River Valley), the goal of which was to force Albanian civilians from that area to cross the border and enter Albania. During this operation soldiers and police officers ordered the villagers from nearly two dozen villages (Dobroš/Dobrosh, Ramoc/Ramoc, Racaj, Korenica, Milić, Brovina, Guska, Nivokaz, etc.) to leave their homes and go to Albania. While they were driving the civilians from their homes, members of the Serbian armed forces killed several dozens of civilians. The largest numbers of civilians were killed in the village of Korenica. Several thousands of the villagers who were forced out of their villages formed a long convoy of tractors headed towards the town of Đakovica/Gjakova. In the village of Meje/Mejës, not far from Đakovica/Gjakova, near the Elementary School, members of the Serbian armed forces singled out the men from the convoy and, after taking their money and valuables, ordered the women, children, and the elderly to go to Albania. Over 250 of the men, aged between 18 and 40 and now separated from their families, were taken to a pasture near the road.  They were later killed in several different locations. The mortal remains of 249 of those men were found in 2001 in a mass grave in Batajnica.

Unlike the OWCP, the ICTY closely examined the role of the Priština Corps of the VJ in the crimes committed in Meje/Mejës and the surrounding villages, including the role of Momir Stojanović and his superiors. Vladimir Lazarević, the then commander of the Priština Corps of the VJ and the direct superior to Momir Stojanović, was found guilty of aiding and abetting the crimes against humanity committed in Meje/Mejës, Korenica, Ramoc and other villages in the Reka Valley. Nebojša Pavković, commander of the Third Army of the VJ, the superior of Vladimir Lazarević, and Dragoljub Ojdanić, the Chief of Staff of the VJ, were also found responsible for those crimes. Sreten Lukić, former Chief of Staff of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Serbia (MUP) in charge of Kosovo and Metohija, and Vlastimir Đorđević, former Assistant Minister of the Interior and Chief of Staff of the Public Security Department, were also found responsible for the crimes in the Reka Valley.

The evidence presented in those cases identified Stojanović as one of the organizers of the joint army-police operation. Nike Peraj, former officer from the VJ 52nd Rocket Artillery Brigade (ARBR), declared by the ICTY to be a credible and reliable witness (paragraph 82, Judgment in the Šainović et al Case, Volume II), testified that following the murder of five members of the MUP, an informal meeting was held in a house in Đakovica/Gjakova, attended by, among others,  the Chief of Staff of the 52nd Rocket Artillery Brigade, Sergej Perović, and “the Chief of Staff of the Military Security Department of the Priština Corps, Momir Stojanović” (paragraph 169, Judgment in the Šainović et al Case, Volume II). Peraj recounted that “during the meeting, Stojanović addressed Mičunović [Commander of VJ reservists in Đakovica/Gjakova] and Kovačević [Chief of the Đakovica/Gjakova Secretariat of the Internal Affairs] ordering them to carry out an operation in the Reka Valley (Đakovica/Gjakova region, where the village of Meje/Mejës is located) where at least 100 ‘heads’ had to be eliminated, and all houses burned in retribution for the killing of Praščević” (paragraph 169 of the first-instance decision in the Šainović et al Case, volume II).

During his testimony, Momir Stojanović defended himself by claiming that Peraj had perjured himself and stated that he had never issued such an order. On the other hand, the ICTY established that Stojanović was not a credible witness, because in his testimony he tried to diminish his actual power at the time, thus playing down his responsibility (paragraph 85 of the first instance decision in the Šainović et al Case, volume II).

Bearing in mind that the ICTY has reconstructed this crime in detail and that its findings were based on a large number of items of clear and irrefutable evidence, and that hundreds of witnesses of this crime have been available to the OWCP through cooperation with EULEX, the HLC would like to point out that, 13 years after the mortal remains of 249 victims of this crime were found in a mass grave near Belgrade, only 10 km away from the OWCP office, the OWCP owes much more to the families of the victims than a mere relativization of the  facts and evidence established by the ICTY.