Kosovo Massacre Survivor Recalls Soldiers Shooting Child

Kosovo Massacre Survivor Recalls Soldiers Shooting Child

BalkanInsight_logoAt the trial of two Serbian officers charged with killing 27 people in the Kosovo village of Trnje in 1999, a witness recalled how Yugoslav Army troops shot her seven-year-old son dead.

Hamide Gashi, a Kosovo Albanian witness at the war crimes trial of serving army officers Pavle Gavrilovic and Rajko Kozlina, told the Belgrade-based special court on Wednesday that Yugoslav Army troops shot her child during the attack on March 25, 1999.

Gashi testified that she first saw the army at around 6am, and some half an hour later troops entered the garden of the house where she was staying with her family and other villagers.

“My seven-year-old son tried to reach me and Shemsie [another of the Trnje villagers] tried to protect him. At that moment the soldier shot and killed them,” Gashi said.

Shortly after that, she left the village and went to Albania and only returned in June 1999, when she found the remains of her son and two other people killed in the house and garden where they were staying.

“The house was burned down. We found only bones,” she said.

According to the indictment, Kozlina and Gavrilovic killed 27 people including a four-year-old boy during the attack on Trnje.

Gavrilovic, a commander of a unit in the Yugoslav Army’s 549th Brigade, is accused of ordering the attack and saying that “there should be no survivors”.

Gavrilovic is also alleged to have split his men up into three groups, with Kozlina being in one of them, and ordered them to enter the village and ethnically cleanse the area.

Kozlina, together with three other soldiers, opened fire on 18 civilians including women and children, killing 16 of them, the indictment alleges.

Other civilians were shot in several other houses in the village, it also says.

Gjyile Gashi, another witness, told the court on Tuesday that she saw soldiers shooting and destroying houses in the village. Along with several other people, she tried to escape but was captured.

“They kept us for around 20 minutes. That is when I saw Rajko Kozlina, he was in uniform with some seven or eight soldiers. He seemed like the principal there as he talked the most,” she said.

Witness Bekim Gashi testified that as well as Yugoslav Army troops, he also saw Serbian police.

“We heard a noise on the street. I walked out of the house and saw that the police and army had surrounded us,” Gashi told the court, adding he saw soldiers setting fire to a nearby stable that housed animals and tractors.

The killings in Trnje were also part of a war crimes indictment filed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia against six former Belgrade officials – Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, Yugoslav deputy prime minister Nikola Sainovic, Yugoslav Army commanders Nebojsa Pavkovic and Vladimir Lazarevic, Yugoslav Army general Dragoljub Ojdanic, and Serbian internal affairs minister Sreten Lukic.

All of them except Milutinovic were found guilty of “a broad campaign of violence directed against the Kosovo Albanian civilian population conducted by forces under the control of the [Yugoslav] and Serbian authorities, during which there were incidents of killing, sexual assault, and the intentional destruction of mosques”.

Their actions caused at least 700,000 ethnic Albanians to leave Kosovo between the end of March and the beginning of June 1999.

Two members of the Yugoslav Army’s 549th Brigade testified anonymously at the Hague trial.

According to their testimonies, around 80 to 100 soldiers from the brigade entered Trnje under the command of Gavrilovic, who before the attack pointed the soldiers in the direction of the village and said: “Today, no one should remain alive here.”

Gavrilovic, who testified for the defence in The Hague, denied the allegations, arguing that he didn’t order the attack.

But the court accepted the testimonies of the witnesses while describing Gavrilovic’s evidence as “unconvincing and unreliable”.

The trial resumes on November 27.