Djordjevic Denies Persecution of Kosovo Albanians
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||30 January 2009|
|Citation / Document Symbol||TU No 586|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Djordjevic Denies Persecution of Kosovo Albanians, 30 January 2009, TU No 586, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/498703cb1ed.html [accessed 18 December 2014]|
He said Belgrade merely implemented anti-terrorist plan to prevent province from seceding.
By Simon Jennings in The Hague (TU No 586, 30-Jan-09)
A former Serbian police chief whose trial began at the Hague tribunal this week denied there was a campaign organised from Belgrade to drive Albanians out of Kosovo in 1999.
"There was no plan or order for acting against the civilian Albanian population in any form," Vlastimir Djordjevic told judges.
"The activity of the [Serbian] state forces did not have as its objective the persecution of the Albanian civilian population."
The trial of Djordjevic started on January 27 with the prosecution outlining counts of murder, deportation and persecution allegedly carried out by the defendant between January 1 and June 20, 1999, as part of a conspiracy to rid Kosovo of its Albanian population.
The defendant, who was formerly head of the public security department of the Serbian ministry of internal affairs, MUP, is charged for his part in what prosecutors claim was a "systematic campaign" that resulted in hundreds of deaths and the expulsion of approximately 800,000 ethnic Albanians.
"All across Kosovo, in a concerted and coordinated manner, the forces of the FRY [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] and Serbia began their widespread and systematic attack on the Kosovo Albanian civilian population forcing them out of Kosovo," Prosecutor Chester Stamp told the court.
Stamp alleged that the campaign involved surrounding towns and villages across several municipalities, and left only one escape route clear. Serbian forces would then shell the area with artillery while police units entered the town to force people out, killing and raping civilians, and looting and destroying homes as they did so.
"The destruction of the homes was done to ensure they would have nothing to return to," he said, showing the court video footage of enormous convoys of civilians fleeing Kosovo.
"Thousands and thousands, hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanian civilians literally fled for their lives."
The prosecutor also alleged that Serbian and FRY forces compelled Albanian refugees to hand over their identity documents and vehicle licence plates at the border as they left.
"We suggest this is a clear manifestation of the objective¦ to modify the ethnic balance of Kosovo in order to maintain Serbian control," he said, citing severe difficulties for any citizens wishing to return later without proof of identity.
However, in his brief statement, the defendant contended that the only action carried out by Serbian officials in the province was an anti-terrorist plan to prevent the creation of a Kosovo republic by Albanian separatists the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.
"The objective was to free roads, neutralise actions of the terrorists, find and set free citizens who had been kidnapped, establish public law and order and ensure personal safety of all citizens," said Djordjevic.
The defendant explained that the reason behind the Albanians' flight was their fear of the 1999 NATO bombing of the region. He blamed the civilians for "creating the semblance of a humanitarian catastrophe while accusing the [Serbian] state forces for excessive use of force and non-observance of human rights".
As head of the police, the prosecution contends that Djordjevic failed to exercise his duty to prevent and punish the perpetrators of the crimes in the indictment.
However, Djordjevic argued this week that several crimes went unreported and he was not in a position to prevent them.
"I did not have effective control over the MUP units that were active in¦ the period relevant to the indictment," he said. "I did not receive any information about punishable conduct of the MUP units."
Stamp also introduced witness testimony that the prosecution intends to present during the trial.
He identified a number of individual crimes committed across the region, including the burning of 100 people in the town of Bela Crkva on March 26, 1999, and the shooting of 47 members of an Albanian family by police in the town of Suva Reka.
The remains of the family killed there were later found buried in two different locations, said Stamp, one of which was a police training centre in Serbia almost 300 kilometres away.
According to Stamp, during 1999, Djordjevic ordered his own subordinates to assist in concealing the bodies of murdered Kosovan civilians, amounting to "the cover-up of mass murder".
Stamp said that witnesses would testify before the court to seeing the mass killings first hand, while a forensic anthropologist would give evidence that the vast majority of recovered bodies had been identified as those of ethnic Albanian civilians who had been shot outside combat.
The prosecution also called its first witness this week.
Veton Surroi, a Kosovo Albanian publisher and former politician, took the stand and explained to the court how the Serbian plan to reclaim power over the region, then an autonomous part of Serbia, dated back to 1989.
It was then that President Slobodan Milosevic retracted Kosovo's self rule and many of Kosovo's previously autonomous institutions such as housing and education were absorbed within the Serbian state, said Surroi.
Ethnic Albanian workers had to sign a document swearing loyalty to the Serb state and those who refused lost their jobs, he said. A great number of those in social housing were evicted.
"The purpose was clear," said Surroi. "Serbia declared that they would never allow the number of Serbs to go down. They wanted the number of Serbs to increase in Kosovo."
The witness also testified about Albanians who were expelled from his home city of Pristina on April 1 and 2 1999, shortly after the NATO bombings began. He went to the house of an old friend and the entire family had disappeared, he said.
"In the oven, I saw a dessert which had been baked by the housewife. It was still warm, and I could also see the teapot with the tea boiling on the stove," Surroi told the court.
"So that was an indication to me that these people were expelled within five minutes. They were not given time even to take the dessert out of the oven."
Civilians were herded to the train station in Pristina where they were forced onto trains bound for Macedonia, he said. He also testified that he had seen people stripped of their identity documents, "The goal was to deprive them of their constitutional and administrative identity so they would not come back."
Asked by prosecutor Daniela Kravetz if civilians were fleeing out of fear of the NATO bombings, the witness denied this was the case.
"Absolutely not. They were frightened directly from the order that they should leave their homes," he said.
"They were also frightened [of] the persecution exercised on them by the police forces."
At the beginning of its cross-examination, Djordjevic's defence team, headed by Dragoljub Djordjevic, sought to undermine the witness's testimony about the intentions of the Serbian state in Kosovo.
The prosecution intends to present the evidence of 132 witnesses in the trial which is expected to last several months.
Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.