Pec (Peja) MunicipalityMore than other areas in Kosovo, Pec municipality holds special significance for Serbs. The area is home to several important Serbian Orthodox sites, including the sixteenth century Pec Patriarchy just outside of Pec city. Prior to 1999, Serbs made up approximately 15 percent of the municipality's 150,000 people.
With its mixed population, Pec city was very tense from the beginning of the internal armed conflict in March 1998. The KLA was in the hills to the west and the highlands to the southeast, and numerous ambushes occured against the police, especially along the road south of Pec towards Decani and Djakovica. In the summer of 1998, there was intense fighting between the KLA and Serbian forces in the village of Lodja (Loxha), just a few kilometers from the city center. For the first time in the war, government forces used airplanes to attack the KLA.1
The city became palpably more tense after December 14, 1998, when unknown perpetrators opened fire and killed six Serbian youths in the Panda Cafe.2 The police responded by searching the Zatra and Kapeshnica neighborhoods around the cafe, and abusing many of the ethnic Albanian residents. The winter, up until the NATO bombing, saw many beatings of ethnic Albanians and a series of enigmatic murders. The government said the KLA was killing Albanians because they were loyal to the government.
During the NATO bombing, Pec city did not suffer such intense violence as in other cities. While there were large-scale killings in the surrounding villages, such as Ljubenic (Lubeniq), Cuska (Qyshk), Pavljan (Pavlan), and Zahac (Zahaq)-more than 500 killings, according to a local human rights group3-and some serious incidents in the city itself, Pec was generally spared the large-scale killings that took place, for example, in Djakovica.
The effectiveness of the police's "ethnic cleansing" campaign in the city is one explanation. Within the first week of the war, an estimated 90 percent of Pec's ethnic Albanian population had been forcibly expelled. The "ethnic cleansing"operation was among the best organized in Kosovo, with buses waiting in the city's center to take people south towards Albania.
Another difference with other municipalities is that, due to Pec's mixed population, ethnic Albanians in the area are able to provide valuable information about the specific individuals that committed crimes, as well as insights into the various police and military structures that were in operation during the war. In some cases, Albanians recognized Serbian neighbors participating in looting as civilians or with military units that committed executions. Based on their testimonies, Human Rights Watch has positively identified some of the individuals involved in the looting, beatings, and killings that took place in parts of the city, as well as in the surrounding villages. A section in this chapter on Cuska village is particularly long and detailed because some of the perpetrators have been identified by name and photograph.
From sources in Pec who wished to remain anonymous, Human Rights Watch also obtained a copy of an official Yugoslav Army document, marked "Military Secret, Highly Confidential" and signed by Lt. Col. Dusko D. Antic. Although the authenticity of the document cannot be verified with certainty, the headings, numbering, and stamps are all consistent with official documents of the army. The document, dated March 30, 1999, places all republic and municipal organs of Pec under the control of the army, and refers to a "moving of the part of the population from the Pec Military Department." Legally speaking, all actions in Pec were under the authority of the Yugoslav Army.
Lt. Col. Antic was also the author of a journal found in the Pec area and viewed by Yugoslav human rights activists and foreign journalists, who believed that it was authentic. According to Natasa Kandic from the Humanitarian Law Center, one of Yugoslavia's most reliable human rights groups, the book, which she saw, was signed by Antic and registered the military activities in the Pec area after March 24, 1999.4 As described in Forces of the Conflict, the commander of the Pec Secretariat for Internal Affairs, which covers the municipalities of Pec, Klina, and Istok, was Col. Boro _Vlahovic.5
There is overwhelming evidence that the police, special police, and paramilitaries were acting in close cooperation with the army in the Pec area. In interviews given to foreign journalists, various police and army officials, as well as paramilitary members spoke about their coordinated activities. One unnamed Yugoslav Army official told a reporter, "The Yugoslav Army consciously and deliberately protected [the paramilitaries]."6
More directly, witnesses in Pec and the surrounding area repeatedly spoke about the violent actions of paramilitaries allowed to operate by the army. Like in Cuska, the army secured the perimeter of villages under attack or controlled the major roads while small militia groups attacked the villages themselves, committing serious abuses in the course of their actions. In Pec, the army or police never interfered with the paramilitaries' violent actions.
Various paramilitary groups were operating in the Pec area, some of them with links to the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs. One such group was called Munja ("Lightning"), and was run by a policeman named Vidomir Salipur. Salipur, as he was known in Pec, was killed by the KLA on April 8 (see death certificate). His public death announcement states that he was a member of the PJP (Posebna Jedinica Policije, or Police Special Unit) and a group called OKB (believed to be Operativni Grupa, or Operative Group). Other groups that were repeatedly mentioned by Pec residents include the Black Hand, Arkan's Tigers, and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj's White Eagles, although we possess only anecdotal evidence of these groups' direct participation in abuses.
Serbian civilians also took part in some of the abuses, especially the looting and burning of Albanian property. Numerous witnesses in Pec city reported seeing their neighbors carting away private possessions, or even participating in some of the militia groups. The diary of a Serbian woman from Pec, who wrote about the activities of local Serbs, is cited above in the chapter Forces of the Conflict.
Pec (Peja) City
The violence against the city's ethnic Albanian population began immediately with the first NATO bombs on March 24. The next day, the Zatra neighborhood was "cleansed," followed by the Kapeshnice neighborhood, and then Dardania. According to the OSCE's report on Kosovo, the police targeted in particular former OSCE-KVM staff and Serb civilians looted the OSCE office in Pec.7
Whole neighborhoods were cleared, with residents ordered to gather at collection points in the center. The police organized buses to take people south to Prizren and then on to Albania. Others were forced to walk on foot north to Montenegro. By March 29, the vast majority of the ethnic Albanian population had been forced to leave the city.
Some killing also took place, apparently to incite fear and expedite the depopulation of the city. The most vicious incidents took place in the Dardania neighborhood where, according to the local Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, forty-one people were killed on March 27.8 Human Rights Watch did not verify every one of these alleged killings, but the general research in Pec and the Dardania neighborhood confirmed the approximate number of forty-one.
One man told Human Rights Watch how his wealthy neighbor, Namik Bilalli, was killed. He said:
My neighbor, Namik Bilalli, was shot on the night of March 26-27. He was a wealthy man in Pec and he lived next door to me. Serbs wanted to rob everything he had. They knocked on his door, rang the bell, and asked for money. Namik said he had no money, so they shot him with a gun fitted with a silencer.9
Another man who declined to give his name told Human Rights Watch:
On Saturday, March 27, Serb neighbors came and said "you must leave." All of them were armed. They went into Albanian homes demanding money and telling us to leave. They said that a human life was worth 1,000 Deutsch marks. If we could pay that, we would live. My cousins and their children were killed. One of them was Mustafa Lajci, aged fifty-five, and his two sons, Halil, aged twenty, and Florim, aged seventeen. The other was Adem Lajci, aged sixty-five, and his two sons, Gani, aged twenty-five, and Myftar, aged eighteen. Mustafa and Adem were brothers, and they lived next door to each other.10
Other ethnic Albanians interviewed in refugee camps in Albania explained how they were forced out of Pec. One man told Human Rights Watch:
The Serbs came into our basement on Sunday, March 28. They pointed guns at us and said: "Where is everyone?" We had been hiding in the basement for five days. We hadn't moved. We had heard shooting, and we had been afraid they would come down into the basement and kill us. . . .
They gathered us in the center of town, searched us, and took our passports and money if they found them, as well as jewelry, necklaces. They threatened us and cursed us. We waited for two hours, and then they put us on buses. When the buses were full, they made people walk. When night fell, we were still in Pec. Some of the people were put in schools. While people were leaving, the Serbs would shoot to create panic. Some people tried to escape from the crowd, hiding in the schools. It was terrible; there was fear and panic everywhere, it was incredible. There was no sleeping, no rest. Vehicles were stolen from people.11
Another man, Bujar Tabaku, said:
They put people on buses. These were private bus companies from Kosovo that had been taken over by the army. There were police drivers on the buses. They were wearing green uniforms and black masks. There were some civilians with guns. I think that these civilians were men from Pec, and it was them who helped organize the buses.12
After "cleansing" the city, the government turned its attention to the villages around Pec. The first villages to be "cleansed" were in the Barane valley that lies to the southeast of Pec. A series of villages, such as Rasic (Rasiq), Brolic (Broliq) and Vranovac (Vranoc) were forcibly depopulated in the first week of April. Villages along the Pec-Pristina road to the east of Pec were also "cleansed" at this time. Three villages along the road-Cuska, Zahac, and Pavljan-were an important exception. They were not touched until May 14, when a series of mass killings took place there (see below). It remains unclear why these three villages were left unaffected in the beginning of April, and then were hit so hard in mid-May.
Looting and Burning
Looting and burning took place throughout the city, often at the hands of local Serbian civilians. The Serbian government, on the state-controlled radio and television, claimed that the city had been damaged by NATO bombs. A member of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Father Jovan, who was working in the Pec Patriarchy after the war, reiterated this claim and told Human Rights Watch that Pec had been bombed by NATO.13 Another member of the church, however, Father Sava, gave an interview to the Serbian-language magazine "Nin" that painted a different picture. In the interview, he said:
We believe the truth will be fully unveiled. How many people died exactly, how many mass graves exist, where they are located. . . . We'll learn about it in these days. That is not a matter of propaganda now, but of material proof which is being found on a daily basis-reports, photos, films are being shot on these sites, and many corpses-unfortunately, mainly of women and children. The Serbian people have to know this tragic truth.
The worst is precisely in areas like Pec, which is a completely ruined town, not because of the NATO bombardments, but because of a systematic burning and destruction of property. All people who lived there, or came and saw what happened, knew what it was about. That is the sad truth about Kosovo and Metohija, the one that not many are ready to talk about, but the one which the Serbian people has to face and do what is necessary.14
Much of Pec's central shopping district was systematically looted and burned in the beginning of April. Many of the municipality's mosques were also destroyed. According to the municipal Islamic office, of thirty-one mosques in the municipality, thirteen were completely destroyed, although three of these were destroyed in 1998 (in Lodja, Rausic (Rausiq), and Vranovac). All of the other mosques were defaced in some way, with graffiti or partial destruction.15 On July 19, 1999, Human Rights Watch visited the ruins of the 300-year-old Islamic archive, which had been destroyed by fire.
A Final Killing
One of the worst incidents in Pec took place on June 12 as Serbian and Yugoslav troops, as well as most of Pec's Serbian population, were preparing to leave Kosovo. In one house, armed forces believed to be members of the Munja militia group killed six members of one family, including children aged five, six, seven, twelve, and thirteen. Four people survived, one of them an eight-year-old boy who pretended he was dead. One man from the family was taken and later found dead.
The incident involved two households, whose family names are withheld to protect them from possible reprisal. The head of one of the households, called here Agim, told Human Rights Watch that, on June 12, around 8:30 p.m., he heard three knocks on the front gate of his garden.16 Before he could open the door, three armed men in uniform jumped over the wall. The door was opened and between fifteen and twenty armed men came into the garden. Agim's three daughters were interrogated for fifteen minutes in a separate room, and then Agim was taken outside, where he saw five or six vehicles waiting. He was driven to the house of his close friend, Ibrahim.
According to Agim, army troops were staying in a house across from Ibrahim's home. Ibrahim was taken from his house and put in a jeep with Agim, who had been hit on the head and body while waiting outside. The two men were then taken back to Agim's house.
In a separate interview, Ibrahim told Human Rights Watch the same story from his perspective.17 On June 12 around 9 p.m., he said, some armed uniformed men jumped over his gate. He was at home with his wife, brother, sister-in-law, three of his brother's children, and four children of his own, as well as his elderly mother, who was an invalid.
The armed men demanded money, and Ibrahim gave them 3,000 DM, as well as some jewelry. Ibrahim and his brother, Musa, were then ordered to go outside. There they saw Agim, who had been beaten, waiting in a jeep. They were all driven back to Agim's house.
Five or six armed men came into Agim's house with the three men, Ibrahim said. They were wearing green army uniforms, black bandanas around their necks, and were armed with automatic guns, grenades and bottles of gasoline. Among them was Nebojsa Minic, a known criminal and paramilitary leader in Pec, who was known by his nickname Mrtvi ("Death"). Both Agim and Ibrahim recognized him at the time, and from the photographs shown in this report. They described him as dark skinned with tattoos all over his upper body, including a dead man on his chest.
Minic asked Ibrahim how much money he had brought. Ibrahim said 3,000DM and Minic replied that he would count the money and kill him if it was not all there. Ibrahim then said he could go home and get some more, so he went back to his house and handed over another 4,900DM that he had hidden.
After Ibrahim gave the additional money, the armed men ordered the family to sit on one couch. They told the sister-in-law to come with them into the next room, Ibrahim recalled. They took her into the bathroom where she was raped by a man with a small beard. Ibrahim's invalid mother was in the next room and heard them screaming at her daughter-in-law: "Brzo! Brzo!" ("Faster! Faster!"). "They dehumanized her," Ibrahim's mother later told Ibrahim.
The armed men brought the sister-in-law back, sat her on the couch with the rest of the family, and then opened fire. Ibrahim explained:
He started shooting. I jumped with my young son out and then off the balcony. My wife who was bleeding went to the balcony and said "please help me." I ran with my son and went to the neighbor's, and left him there. I came to Slavka [a Serbian neighbor] but she didn't come out. I waited to see what would happen and I saw them leaving. But they dropped two grenades. I hid in the grass and when they went out they shot all over the house.
I went in and asked my mother what had happened. She said I don't know but something is moving. I saw the son of my brother, four years old, who survived. My wife was badly wounded. She crawled to the neighbor's house bleeding. The daughter of my brother was wounded too, but I didn't realize that until the next morning. We took her to the hospital but the doctor said she had lost a lot of blood. They operated on her but she died.
The dead are Vjollca, 28 (raped and killed); Rena, 7; Nita, 5; Hajri, 13; Dardane, 12; Agon, 6; and Musa, 31 (taken away and found dead five days later)
While this was taking place, Agim was sitting with the other armed men, including Minic. There were ten members of his family present, he told Human Rights Watch, as well as Ibrahim's brother, Musa, who had been taken from Ibrahim's house. Musa was then taken away. His body was found five days later in the Kalaja neighborhood with a slit throat.
Minic, appearing reflective, said to Agim, "Old man, these are hard times. And this is the cleansing of the inner city." He drank coffee offered by the family and then, according to Agim, told him about his orders. Agim recalled:
When they took Musa away, Minic said, "You see, old man, your family and Musa's family must be executed." He said, "Every half hour the orders are changing." He said, "I feel sorry I must tell you, but Ibrahim's family has been executed, liquidated." He said, "You were first on the list but unfortunately we had to kill Ibrahim's family first." I said, "please save the lives of my children." He said he would spare them until morning.
Minic had a radio. That night he wore only a green T-shirt. We saw his arms had tattoos. On one forearm was a knife, an axe and a grenade. There was a dead man on his chest. We heard people speaking to him on the radio. We heard only "the city is safe. No entrance or exit to the city. You are secure. Do what you want." We heard this when they were in our house.
The armed men left Agim's house, except for Minic and another man. Minic and the other man then stated that they had to take Agim's two daughters "to the Major." According to Ibrahim, Minic swore by the cross around his neck that nothing would happen to the girls. They were gone for approximately one hour and returned unharmed, according to Ibrahim and the two girls who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch in their father's presence. The men tried to convince them to have sex with them, they said, but they refused and were brought back home.
The next morning, Ibrahim showed up outside Agim's house with a friendly Serbian policeman, whom the Albanians affectionately called "Kaplan."18 According to Agim, Kaplan told him about the plans to execute his family, and advised him to flee, which they did.
That day, Ibrahim buried the five killed members of his family who were killed with the help of four policemen whose names are withheld to protect them from possible reprisals.
The motivation for the killing is unclear, although robbery is one explanation. But both Ibrahim and Agim claim that the armed forces knew them by name and they therefore believed that they had been targeted for some reason. One explanation, posited by Ibrahim, was that his brother Musa had recently been caught trying to escape to Montenegro. According to Ibrahim, in late May, Musa paid a Serbian policeman named Zharko Backovic 3,000 DM to smuggle him and his family out of Kosovo. They were caught on their way, and Musa spent one week in prison. Backovic allegedly got in trouble for helping an Albanian family. Ibrahim and Agim believed that the killing might have been his attempt to redeem himself in front of his colleagues, but this is their speculation. The knowledge that the family had wealth is another possibility.
The rape in the incident mentioned above was the only case of sexual assault in Pec directly confirmed by Human Rights Watch, although circumstantial evidence suggests that many more women were raped in and around the city. A gynecologist in Pec told Human Rights Watch that, after the war, he had given abortions to three Pec women whom he believed had been subjected to rape.19 Womens' reluctance to speak about rape and sexual assault makes it very difficult to confirm these allegations. (See March-June 1999: An Overview.)
On April 20, NATO alleged that, according to Kosovar Albanian refugees, Serbian and Yugoslav forces had set up rape camps in Djakovica and Pec. In Pec, refugees claimed, "Serb forces have rounded up young Albanian women and taken them to the Hotel Karagac where the local commander apparently has organized a roster of his soldiers to allow them all an evening at the hotel."20
In its report on war crimes in Kosovo, the U.S. State Department also made allegations about rape camps in Djakovica and Pec.21 The report's section on Pec cites as its sole source a June 22 New York Times article about rape in Pec. The cited article, however, mentions "Department of State officials" as the original source of the allegations.22
Neither Human Rights Watch nor any foreign journalists were able to confirm the presence of a rape camp in the Hotel Karagac.23 According to the OSCE, the KLA inspected the Hotel Karagac once they entered Pec around June 12. A local deputy brigade commander of the KLA told the OSCE that they had found used condoms and women's clothes in the hotel.24
In the early morning of May 14, 1999, Serbian security forces descended on the small village of Cuska a few miles east of Pec. Fearing reprisals, many men fled into the nearby hills while the rest of the population was forcibly assembled in the village center. An estimated twelve men were killed during the roundup in various parts of the village.
At approximately 8:30 a.m., security forces in green military uniforms with painted faces and masks separated the gathered women, children, and elderly from the remaining men who had not managed to flee. The more than 200 villagers were threatened and systematically robbed of their money, jewelry, and other valuables. Their identification papers were destroyed.
Thirty-two men between the ages of nineteen and sixty-nine were divided into three groups and taken into three separate houses, where they were forced to stand in a line. In each house, uniformed men sprayed them repeatedly with automatic weapons. In one of the houses, a gunman finished off several of the fallen men with pistol shots. Each house was set on fire and left to burn.
The Cuska case has two special characteristics that make it worth a detailed investigation. First, in each of the three groups of men, there was one survivor. Through pure chance, three people managed to crawl from the burning homes, none of them seriously injured. They, and many others present that day, have told Human Rights Watch their stories.
Second, while ethnic Albanian villagers in Kosovo are usually unable to differentiate between soldiers, special police, and paramilitaries, let alone identify individuals, in this case there is powerful evidence to point the finger at some of the specific people involved in these war crimes. Local villagers are adamant that ethnic Serbs from the immediate area were involved in the action. Some of the forces addressed the Albanians by name and asked for specific valuables.
Villagers positively identified in photographs two of the individuals that they claim were present in Cuska on May 14-Srecko Popovic and Zvonimir Cvetkovic-and a third man-Slavisa Kastratovic-who was present in the nearby village of Zahac on the same day, when nineteen other men were killed. While none of the individuals identified are known to have opened fire on the ethnic Albanian men, their presence in Cuska and Zahac on May 14 means that they should be able to identify the perpetrators, as well as the commanders of the unit. That information should be invaluable to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, as well as to Serbian courts, which may begin some prosecutions after the October 2000 fall of Slobodan Milosevic. The photographic evidence is discussed further below in the section on perpetrators.
The motivation for the killing in Cuska, as well as the attacks that same day on Pavljan and Zahac, remains unclear. There is no evidence to suggest an active KLA presence in the villages in 1998 or 1999, and no policemen or soldiers are known to have died in the immediate vicinity during the NATO bombing, which might have made revenge a possible motive. One explanation offered by local villagers is that Cuska was the home of Hasan Ceku, the father of Agim Ceku, the military head of the KLA.25 Hasan and his brother, Kadri, were both among the murdered in Cuska on May 14. One villager in Cuska told Human Rights Watch that the police showed her a picture of Agim Ceku and said: "We are doing this because of him."26 This is supported by testimony given to the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, a U.S.-based human rights group. In video footage taken by the committee's Witness Project, members of the Ceku family testify that the security forces specifically asked for Agim Ceku's father before killing him.27
Motivation aside, the killings in Cuska, Pavljan, and Zahac were closely coordinated. This was not random violence by a rogue element in the Serbian security forces. As in other villages throughout Kosovo during the war, the Yugoslav Army maintained security on the periphery of the fighting, installing checkpoints on roads leading out, while special police forces and paramilitaries went into the villages to kill and "cleanse." Whether the principal perpetrators in Cuska were a local militia, a special police unit, or perhaps both, there is no question that they were working in concert with the local police and military authorities.
There is also evidence of direct Yugoslav Army involvement in the attack. A number of sources reported seeing documents from the army regarding a military buildup around Cuska shortly before May 14. One Western journalist claimed to have seen Yugoslav Army documents that ordered the village to be "cleansed".
To protect the identities of survivors and witnesses, altered initials are used.
Cuska is a small village about five miles east of Pec near the main Pec-Pristina road that had approximately two hundred houses and 2,000 residents. Three ethnic Serbian families lived in the village, each named Jasovic, as well as one Montenegrin family named Bojovic. Relations between Serbs and Albanians were good, the ethnic Albanian villagers said. All of the non-ethnic Albanian families left Kosovo when the Serbian and Yugoslav forces withdrew from the province on June 12.
According to villagers, there was never any KLA activity in Cuska, Zahac, or Pavljan, although some of the military-age men in the area were admittedly members of the KLA who fought in the Pec municipality, including in the village of Lodja. The immediate Cuska area was not the scene of fighting between government forces and the KLA in 1998 or 1999. The only known incident occurred in Zahac on December 22, 1998, when the police killed one ethnic Albanian man, Sali Kabashi, and arrested five others in disputed circumstances. The Serbian government said the police came under fire during the arrest,28 but ethnic Albanian sources claimed that Kabashi was summarily executed.29
During the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, Cuska, Zahac, and Pavljan were initially left relatively untouched even though most of the surrounding villages and the city of Pec were systematically "cleansed" beginning on March 25. By March 29, as noted, more than 90 percent of Pec's population had been sent to Montenegro in the north by foot or to Albania in the southwest by bus. Other villages along the Pec-Pristina road were also vacated of ethnic Albanians in March and April, except for Cuska, Zahac, and Pavljan. Why they were not "cleansed" at this time is unknown. One unproven theory is that the villages were paying protection money to the local security forces.
Special police forces came to Cuska three times before the May 14 attack to demand weapons and money, and they burned a few houses, but nobody was injured or killed, and everyone was allowed to stay. The first visit was April 17 around 4:00 p.m., and the forces only entered the Kristal neighborhood of the village. Between four and seven houses were burned, villagers told Human Rights Watch.
Four days later, at around 12:00 p.m., security forces entered Cuska, Zahac, and Pavljan. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the men were in green camouflage uniforms, and some of them had green cowboy hats. Villagers also said that the forces told them not to worry. "All of you can go home. No one will touch you. You're safe," they allegedly said. The forces came again the following day and searched Cuska for weapons. A number of witnesses said that some villagers had handed over guns they had in their possession at this time. Syl Gashi reportedly handed over a hunting rifle and his brother gave a pistol, as did Brahim Lushi, even though he possessed a gun license. The police also reportedly took Syl Gashi's BMW car and 1,200 DM.
The police action on May 14 was clearly "more aggressive" than on previous visits, many villagers said. From the beginning, it was clear that the forces' objectives and orders went beyond a routine search for weapons.
The May 14 offensive began without warning around 7:30 a.m. when a large force believed to be special police and paramilitaries entered Cuska from the direction of Pec. Villagers told Human Rights Watch that they heard automatic gunfire at about that time and saw some houses on the edge of the village being burned. Many of the young and middle-aged men fled in fear into the nearby hills, as they had during the previous police visits to Cuska, although some decided to stay with their families.
The police swept from west to east, forcing people towards the center of the village. Some villagers went willingly to the center since, as one woman said, they thought they were being expelled to Albania and "it would be safer to assemble in one place."30 An estimated twelve men were killed at this time in various parts of the village, including Hasan Ceku.
The Witness Project of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights interviewed two witnesses to Hasan Ceku's killing. Both of them testified about the incident on video, the transcript of which was made available to Human Rights Watch. One witness said:
They [the security forces] then asked who was the father of Agim Ceku, that he was big now, that we brought NATO to them, now they will eliminate us. . . . They took Hasan, let him go two times, and released the cattle. When he came back the last time, they had even stabbed one of the cows. They shot Hasan right there, and set him on fire. I snuck close by and saw Hasan dead, with his legs on fire.31
Another witness testified to the Witness Project:
We knew that they were killing the families of Albanian officers. I believed it was just a matter of time before they killed us all. They separated us, not knowing who Agim's father was, and asking about it. [Hasan] came forward. They told him to take his family and separated us. They took [Hasan] to find a picture of Agim, while they questioned me and my sister-in-law. They asked us when was the last time we saw him [Agim]. Where? But we had already decided that no matter what, we would never admit that we have any contact with him. I was telling him never. At that moment [Hasan] brought the picture, in which I was with Agim. He recognized me, but I denied it. He told me I was lucky because I was carrying a little child with me. They asked me to follow them and tell them whose house was the one across the street. Then I heard the shots. I ran but my uncle did not let me see [Hasan] dead.32
Despite these initial killings, some men decided to stay with their families. One thirty-eight-year-old man, B.B., remained with approximately forty people from his family, including his mother and children. He explained for Human Rights Watch:
When I saw them [the Serbian forces] near my house they looked very aggressive, so I decided to run. Down the road I saw some young men who told me they [the Serbian forces] had killed three men. I decided to come to the neighborhood of the Gashi family. When I got there I spoke with some old men who had decided to wait for the military to come. Right after that, the Lushi and Kelmendi families came-women, men, and children.33
B.B. and other villagers interviewed separately told Human Rights Watch that a group of approximately 200 ethnic Albanians from the village was soon surrounded by an estimated one hundred security forces. All of the witnesses said that the forces were wearing green military-style uniforms. All of them had their faces covered in some way, either with black grease paint or a mask, and some of them had black scarves and green cowboy-style hats.
All of the villagers believed that some of the security forces were from the Pec area, such as the ethnic Serbian village of Gorazdevac (Gorazhdec), which is across the Bistrica River from Cuska. Some of the forces seemed to know a few of the local Albanians personally, villagers told Human Rights Watch, since they asked for specific valuables, such as the "car keys to your Mercedes." One woman who was in close contact with the forces told Human Rights Watch:
They wore green camouflage uniforms. Most of them had handkerchiefs around their heads, and two of them had hats, but some of them had their heads uncovered. All of them had their faces painted. We could only see their eyes, so we could not recognize them. But it was obvious that some of them knew us. There is a very short man from Cuska, a drunkard, whom people make fun of. Some soldiers started making fun of him, and from the way they did it, it was clear they knew him. . . . Also, some of the soldiers would say to a person: "Get the keys of your Mercedes!" or "Give us the keys to your van!" That is, they knew who was who and who owned what.34
B.B. told Human Rights Watch: "I think they were from around here because they knew the men by name and they told them to get their cars. I recognized some of their faces."35 For more details on the identities of the security forces, see below.
After the crowd of villagers was concentrated in the village center, twenty-nine men were separated from the women and children. The entire group was then systematically robbed of their valuables. B.B. explained:
They ordered us to empty our pockets of all valuables-money, jewelry, gold. After they finished that, they ordered two kids, aged thirteen and fourteen. One was to take our IDs and the other to collect the valuables. The man who [later] executed us put a knife to the childrens' throats and said "give us everything you have." They shot near the kids' legs and above their heads.36
C.C., aged fifty-seven, was also captured as he tried to leave his house and forced to gather in the village center. He told Human Rights Watch:
The wife of my brother was twenty meters away. They told her to stop and they put a machine gun to her neck. They took about 850 DM from her. One of them cursed me and hit me in the face with his hand. "What do you think, you will never have a democracy," they said. "This is Serbia. America or NATO have no business here."
They took us to the cemetery. The Gashi, Lushi, and Kelmendi families were there, along with some guests from Lodza, Graboc, Rausic, and Gorazdevac. . . . They started to separate the women, children, and old men from the younger men. I didn't recognize them because at that moment most of them were masked or with black color on their faces. They stole from us; from me they took about 200 DM. They took our watches, documents, some of which they burned, our gold, and jewelry.37
Another woman who was present, D.D., told Human Rights Watch that the women and children stayed in the village center for approximately one hour. She said:
The soldiers were taking things from us: money, cigarettes, watches, _jewelry. . . . One soldier took a knife and started licking it. He put it under the throat of a child. One of my children, my three-year-old son, broke free from my hands and started running to the direction of the group of men, where my husband was. The soldiers shot into the ground close to my son's legs to stop him.38
Another woman, A.A., corroborated this account. She added:
We [the women] stayed at the square. A soldier told us that they had an order to kill all of the villagers, but that they would spare women and children. He asked: "Do you want us to take you to Albania or to Montenegro?" We did not answer.39
After stripping everyone of their documents and valuables, the security forces separated twelve men from the group of thirty-two and brought them into a yard between the houses of Ajet and Haki Gashi. The twelve men were led into the nearby house of Syle Gashi. What happened next is best described by the testimony of C.C., who was in the group:
Four of them came with us, three soldiers and one policeman. One had an automatic machine gun with two legs and the other three had normal machine guns. They put us near the wall. One of them was at the door with the machine gun-a young soldier. He said, "We will execute all of your families at the cemetery. You'll give us all your money if you want to be saved." We said we didn't have any more money and you can do anything you want with us.
Then he said he would talk with his colleagues to see what he'd do with us. They spoke by walkie-talkie with their commander but I didn't hear what they said. At once he stepped into the door with the machine gun. We were against the wall with our hands up. He said, "In the name of Serbia you will all be shot."
Ibro [Iber] Kelmendi was on the left side. He has a weak heart and when he heard what he said, he died and fell on top of me. I pretended like I was dead too. Then he opened fire and everyone _was killed except one guy. He shot once more _at that person-I don't know who it was. I was wounded too, in the upper leg. Another guy came and shot again, then a third guy emptied his machine gun, then the fourth. I was alive under Ibro Kelmendi and my brother.
They cursed Albanians and then they set the house on fire. They broke a window and lit the stuffing from a mattress and put it over the bodies. I pushed the bodies aside and got out. I decided it was better to kill me than to be burned alive, so I jumped out the window. I went 100 meters and hid. I hid from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.40
Human Rights Watch inspected Syle Gashi's house on July 16. Only the walls were standing, and the interior had been completely burned. Small fragments of bone were scattered among the charred roof tiles and wooden beams that lay on the ground.
B.B. was among the men waiting outside the garden gate. He told Human Rights Watch that he heard shooting two or three minutes after the first group had been taken away, and he knew they had been killed. He told Human Rights Watch:
The police returned, talked among themselves and asked some young boys around fifteen and sixteen to go with the women and children. Then they separated us into two groups. When they took us [eleven men], one guy didn't know which way to go and they hit him with a gun and said "Go this way!" They told us to go with our hands on our head and walk quickly. When we came here [house of Sahit Gashi], one said, "put them here." Another said, "It's not good to put them here because it will smell." So we went to Sahit Gashi's house.
First they said stand near the bathroom. I first thought they would execute us there, but one guy with many bullets on his chest-12.7 mm bullets-said, "No, go in this room." They were very calm. They cursed us but they were not shouting. I wonder how they can kill us when they are so calm.
We went into the kitchen. I saw the fire from the machine gun and I fell to my left. I think everyone was killed but I wasn't even wounded. He sprayed three times. The same man went to the other side of the room and shot again at those who had fallen. Three times again. One bullet hit me in the leg. I was hit on my left leg below the knee. Then I was hit on the right leg above the knee. The third bullet hit me in the right shin and broke the bone.41
Then he took out his pistol and shot six or seven people but I wasn't watching because my eyes were closed. Then everything stopped. There was silence. I waited for two or three minutes and slowly opened my eyes. When I saw no one was around I looked to my right and saw Isuf Shala was dead. Arian Lushi was dead on my right. The others were dead too.
I saw five police from the window and I heard one of them coming. I stayed lying down with my eyes half closed watching what he was doing. He just put his head in the room and threw something and very quickly some black smoke started going from that. After a few seconds, I couldn't breathe. When I thought I was going to scream because I was choking, I was thinking "please God, help" and I got up and went to the door. I thought I'd be killed but it is very hard to be burned alive.
I went to the other room and jumped from the window. I jumped out and saw their cars. One had a big Gulinov. They had civilian vehicles, trucks, and tractors and military vehicles too.42
Like Syle Gashi's house, Sahit Gashi's home was also burned, with only the walls remaining, when visited by Human Rights Watch on July 15.
E.E. was in the last group of nine men waiting outside the garden gate on the day of the killing. In a brief interview with Human Rights Watch he confirmed that his group had been taken into Deme Gashi's house and was shot there. He survived uninjured. During the discussion, however, the photographs of his deceased family members and neighbors arrived for use in the ceremonial service that was planned to take place in Cuska the next day, July 18, rendering the moment inappropriate for an in depth interview.
Some foreign journalists, however, did speak in detail with E.E. about his experience. In an article published in the June 28 edition of Time, the survivor is quoted about what happened after the security forces took him into the two-story house:
I was together with eight others. When we entered the hallway of the house, one of the VJ [Yugoslav Army] soldiers gave us a lighter and told us to burn down the house. When I bent down to take the lighter, the shooting started. I started crawling, not lifting my head.43
Human Rights Watch also spoke with E.E.'s niece, A.A., in Montenegro where she was a refugee. She told Human Rights Watch that she met her uncle near Cuska the night of May 14 and relayed what he had said to her at that time:
At twilight, our uncle E.E. came and told us that the men had been separated into three groups and led into three houses. He was the first to enter one of the houses. He was given a lighter by a soldier and ordered to light a curtain in the room. When he kneeled down to set the curtain on fire, he heard a machine gun burst. He jumped out of the window and ran away.44
The events described by the three survivors were corroborated by other individuals in Cuska on May 14, including the group of women who were in close proximity to the security forces before being sent out of the village around the time the first group of men was being led into Syle Gashi's house. As they were leaving, they heard shots, some of them said, but they were not able to determine where they came from. A.A. told Human Rights Watch:
While we were leaving Cuska, the soldiers started shooting in our direction, but they were only shooting into the ground. Because of the noise and the fear we felt, we were unable to discern precisely what was shot at, and all the places the shooting was coming from. Maybe there was some other shooting as well at the same time, but we were not able to discern it.45
The women and children in the village were loaded onto tractors and escorted by the Serbian forces to the nearby Trepca battery factory on the Pec-Pristina road. One women in the group told Human Rights Watch that they met the commander of the Pec-Klicina police station at a checkpoint near the factory. He was apparently surprised to see the women and children, asked who had sent them there, and returned them in the direction of Cuska, accompanied by men in three civilian cars, a grey Audi and two Zastavas. D.D. said:
The soldiers set Sali's house on fire. The roof began to fall. Then they put us on tractors and horses. Around 10:00 a.m. they took us-women, children, and several old men-in front of the Trepca factory, which is between Cuska and the center of Pec. While we were leaving, we heard gunfire. The soldiers didn't say much on the way to the factory.
We stayed for four hours in front of Trepca. The police there told us to go back to Cuska. When we got close to the village, we saw the burnt houses. I entered the house of Ram Binaku. I saw burnt bodies in one of the rooms. Most of the bodies were impossible to recognize. The woman recognized pieces of things belonging to their husbands, such as lighters, watches, keys. . . . I think Skender Dervishi was burned alive, because next to his body I saw traces in the ground, as if somebody was scratching his hand in the surface. I fainted.46
Another man, F.F., aged thirty-five, fled into the hills when the security forces arrived but returned later that day to discover many of the bodies, ultimately burying thirty-five of the forty-two victims. He told Human Rights Watch:
We went about 300 meters from the village where there is a wooded hill. We saw the burning houses and heard shooting and screaming. Then the forces went away. About thirty or forty-five minutes later, [E.E.] came. We saw he was not okay. I asked him what happened. He couldn't speak a word but just replied, "What happened to us. What happened to us" while putting his hands on his head. He looked inhuman.47
E.E. told the men in the hills that people had been killed in the village but he was too traumatized to explain, F.F. said. About an hour later, F.F. and another man named Ajet went into Cuska to see what happened. On the way, they saw Zoran Jasovic, an ethnic Serb civilian who lived in Cuska, waving a Yugoslav flag in front of a burning house, apparently to let the security forces know that he was Serbian. He didn't see the ethnic Albanian men and then he left the area. F.F. explained what happened next:
He [Jasovic] left and we went to that house. I went inside and saw the bodies burning. It was the house of Deme Gashi. I didn't identify them or count them. We went back to the woods and invited Sadik Gashi to come with us. We went back and tried to put the fire out. The forces had left at that time. None of our family members were around. . . .
I saw the burning house of Syle Gashi and we saw a large number of burning victims. I cannot tell how many people were there, it's better to speak with an eyewitness. I decided to inspect each house. In the house of Ahmet Gashi we found burning bodies but we couldn't put out the flames. In Ajet's house we saw two other burning bodies: Syle Gashi and Skender Gashi . . . Then we went to Sali Gashi's house. We saw the body of Ibish Gashi with many bullet holes. We saw an outhouse near the road riddled with bullets. I opened the door slowly, very slowly, and I saw Qaush Lushi dead. He was killed with a 7.9 mm machine gun.
Human Rights Watch inspected the outhouse where Qaush Lushi was reportedly killed. It was a small wooden structure on the side of the road with ten bullet holes in the front door, and nine bullet holes on the far wall inside (see photograph at left). Danish forensic experts who were coincidentally examining the site for the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at the time told Human Rights Watch that they had gathered positive evidence of human blood inside. Two bullets were found, they said, one inside the outhouse and one wedged into the wood. They appeared to be 7.6 mm caliber.48
Villagers in Cuska told Human Rights Watch that Qaush Lushi was the richest man in the village, and that he had been forced to give the police 10,000 DM before he and his son, Osman, were killed. An article in Time covering the killings in Cuska also said that Lushi returned from his house with money for the police to find his son already dead. He was then forced into the outhouse where he was killed.49
B.B. confirmed that the police had targeted Qaush Lushi. He told Human Rights Watch:
They [the security forces] said "Do you want a state? We are 11 million Serbs so if you want a state ask for help from Clinton and Blair. Ask for NATO's help now." Qaush said "We have a state." And one of them said, "While I was defending you, you got rich." Two times they took Qaush to his home and when he went to this garden [near Azem Gashi's house], they shot above his head. Qaush came back with his car.50
F.F. told Human Rights Watch what happened the next day, May 15, after he and other villagers had spent the night in the forest:
The next day, the families who had slept in the Kelmendi house, Ajet, Milaim, and me, decided to bury the bodies because we didn't want the families to see them in that condition. I proposed and we decided to dig one mass grave because it was too dangerous to take the time digging many graves. Some women and children came and realized that their men had been killed and burned. They asked me "where is so and so." I said, "everyone who is not here is dead."
We found thirty-one burned bodies and buried them with two unburned bodies, that of Ibish Gashi and Qaush Lushi . . . [The next day] it rained very hard. We decided that we, Skender, Ajet, Milaim, and me would go and take two other bodies, one near my house, with a stretcher and we saw one old man who was watching the body of my uncle Brahim, who was killed by a bullet to the heart. We took him to the grave site. We went to look for our neighbor Rasim. . . . We found Rasim in his garden. He had been killed by many bullets. In his garden another executed person, Mete Shala, had been, but he had already been taken by his brother.51
By mid-afternoon, the group of women, children, and elderly had been sent back to Cuska. Uniformed men put people from three families-Lushi, Gashi, and Kelmendi-into the house of Shaban Binaku. They, and those who had managed to escape the attack, stayed in the village or the nearby forest until the end of the war.
The Attacks in Zahac (Zahaq) and Pavljan (Pavlan)
The killing in Cuska is the focus of this section. But it appears that the May 14 offensive also included attacks on the neighboring villages of Zahac and Pavljan as a coordinated action. The evidence suggests that some of the same forces were involved in the attacks in at least two of the villages. Many witnesses, for example, told Human Rights Watch that the security forces moved on in the direction of Zahac and Pavljan after the killings in Cuska.
Villagers told Human Rights Watch that the police had come to Zahac, a village with approximately 140 houses, a few times prior to May 14, mostly to demand money. After the NATO bombing began, the police and paramilitaries were based in private properties near the village, including shops on the Pec-Pristina road and the house of Xhemail Rama.
The police arrived on May 14 at around 8 a.m. Many people fled into the hills, but a number of villagers were captured in the village. Sadri Gashi, Fatos Gashi, and Valdet Gashi were reportedly killed at this time. Forces described as police and paramilitaries ordered most of the villagers to flee toward Pec on tractors and on foot, with orders to "go to Albania."52
Another group of paramilitaries stopped the convoy on the road and separated out fourteen men. The rest of the group continued on to the Trepca battery factory near Pec, but they were stopped there by police around 1:00 p.m., held for a while, and turned back toward Zahac. Around 5:00 p.m. the convoy passed the spot where the fourteen men had been detained, villagers said. They didn't see any bodies, but they later heard from other villagers that the fourteen men were dead in a ditch there parallel to the road.
Back in Zahac, security forces robbed the villagers who had returned on the convoy and then separated the men from the women and children. The men were ordered to hand over all of their money if they didn't want to be executed. After all of the valuables had been handed over, the forces left. The villagers stayed in the hills for more than one month, coming back to the village only for food, until NATO forces arrived in Kosovo on June 12. In total, nineteen people were killed In Zahac on May 14. Nine others were killed at other times during the war, but Human Rights Watch did not investigate these killings.53
The security forces arrived in Pavljan around 10:30 a.m. on May 14, according to villagers.54 Many of the men fled the village since they had heard that people were being executed in the area. Forty-six people from the village were captured, however, including six men. After the police took their identity documents, they detained the six men but let the others go. As they were leaving, the villagers said they heard three rounds of shooting. When they returned to Pavljan that evening, they found the six men dead in the burned house of Zymer Gashi.
Human Rights Watch visited Zymer Gashi's two-story house on July 17, 1999. It was completely burned with only the walls standing. On the wall at the height of the second floor, opposite the door, there were fourteen bullet holes. The villagers had collected the fragments of some bones, which were placed in a plastic bag hanging on the wall by a nail.
The villagers told Human Rights Watch that Ajshe Gashi, aged forty-three, had had the most direct contact with the security force since she spoke good Serbian. According to them, when the police returned to Pavljan later in May after the massacre, Ajshe told them that she knew they were from the area. She was killed in unknown circumstances on June 8.
All together, thirteen people were seized and shot by Serbian forces in Pavljan during the NATO bombing, ten of them on May 14. The others were killed on June 5, 8, and 10.
As noted, ethnic Albanians had difficulty indentifying the perpetrators of abuses against them. On occasion, a specific individual or police chief was recognized, but witnesses and victims generally refer to abusers in generic terms like "the paramilitaries" or "soldiers."
Abuses in the Pec area, however, offer new possibilities for perpetrator identification, since, unlike in other parts of Kosovo, the local Albanians had regular contact on a variety of levels with the many ethnic Serbs who lived in the area. Pec itself, seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church, had a sizable Serbian population, as did some of the area's villages, such as Gorazdevac and Nakle (Nakille).
In Cuska, many of the local Albanians believed that the security forces who were in the village on May 14 included ethnic Serbs from the area. As described above, the security forces seemed to know some of the individual Albanians. Other villagers told Human Rights Watch that the forces spoke Serbian with a clear Kosovo accent, as opposed to Serbs from southern Serbia or Belgrade. One villager in Pavljan said she recognized some of the forces in her village as Serbs from the area, although she knew no names. "One of them worked as a doorman where they sell cheese and milk in Lloma e Bilmetit," she said.55
In numerous interviews with villagers, a number of physical descriptions emerged. One woman, H.H., described the man she thought was a commander in Cuska (because he spoke on a walkie-talkie) as approximately six feet tall, slightly fat and aged forty. He had short black hair, shaved on the sides, with a bit of white on the top, she said. He had a beard that was speckled with gray and he wore an army uniform with no hat.56 Other villagers also described the commander as having a light beard. B.B. told Human Rights Watch: "One guy with a short beard with grey speckles looked like a commander because he gave the orders."57
The most damning evidence, however, is from witness identifications using a series of twenty-one photographs obtained by Human Rights Watch that depict armed and uniformed men who were apparently in some form of military unit or units, either police reservists, special forces, a local militia, or paramilitaries. Two individuals in the photographs were positively identified by multiple witnesses as having been present in Cuska on May 14, and a third person was seen in Zahac on the same day. A number of other individuals were identified, although not alleged to be in Cuska on May 14, and some were not identified at all.
Human Rights Watch obtained the photographs on July 16 from the municipal administration in Pec, which was run at that time by former members of the KLA. The photographs depict various individuals and groups in an assortment of military poses. Some show men in military uniforms posing in a field or village. Others have men in full military outfits with automatic weapons in front of burning houses or displaying the three-fingered Serbian nationalist salute. The KLA officials told Human Rights Watch that the photographs had been found in the homes of ethnic Serbian citizens in the Pec area after Serbian and Yugoslav forces withdrew from Kosovo on June 12. Human Rights Watch also obtained two other group photographs dated May 6, 1999, of what, from the shoulder insignia, appears to be special police forces, from villagers in Zahac. The villagers told Human Rights Watch that they had found the photographs in the home of an ethnic Serb in Nakle.
Human Rights Watch scanned all of the photographs into a laptop computer and then showed them to villagers in Cuska, Zahac, and Pavljan, as well as to people in Pec, to see if anyone recognized or could identify any of the individuals. Human Rights Watch cannot confirm the authenticity of the photographs, since their origin, method of procurement, and ownership record are unknown. The fact that they were provided by the KLA, in whose interest it is to identify possible Serbian war criminals, should heighten suspicion about their accuracy. But, even if the photographs were doctored, there is no question that the villagers interviewed by Human Rights Watch positively identified some of the people in the photographs-and it is highly unlikely that this was coordinated between them and the KLA. Human Rights Watch asked the KLA for the photographs, rather than receiving them on the KLA's initiative, and did not mention that they would be shown to villagers in the area.
The results of Human Rights Watch's investigation are as follows. One man was recognized by six different people, interviewed separately, who said they had seen him in Cuska on May 14. Five of these people identified him from photograph no. 1 (second from left), and only one of these people qualified this, saying "I am 90 percent sure he was here." The others were emphatic in their answers. Two of the interviewees said the man in the photographs was a commander in Cuska on May 14, and one other who had also placed him there said he "might be the commander," i.e. a person who was directing the others in the group and talking on a walkie-talkie.58
Photographs no. 2 (man on right) and no. 3 appear to show the same person, although he is cleanly shaven. One of the five witnesses who recognized the man from photograph no. 1 said the same man was on the right in photograph no. 2 and photograph no. 3, and that the other security forces had called him "Popa." One further witness, who did not react to photograph no. 1, said that the man on the right in photograph no. 2 was in Cuska on May 14, and that he had gone to Deme Gashi's house where eight people were killed. "He had no beard," she said. When viewing photograph no. 3, the witness claimed that the man had visited Cuska with the Serbian forces in April, and that he had worn a beard at that time. By her account, he "waved his assault rifle and said `you can't run from this.'"
Aside from having heard the nickname "Popa," none of these witnesses knew the man's name when they identified him in the photographs: they only claimed that he had been in Cuska. His name, Srecko Popovic, had been provided previously to Human Rights Watch by the local KLA, but it was later confirmed by two American journalists who were also investigating war crimes in the Pec area, and using the same set of photographs to identify perpetrators. According to Stephen Smith and Michael Montgomery from American RadioWorks, whose radio series on Cuska and war crimes in Kosovo generally, "The Promise of Justice", has aired on National Public Radio in the United States in 2000 and 2001, the three men they interviewed-one ethnic Albanian and two ethnic Serbs-identified Popovic by name when they saw photograph no. 3.59 In addition, Smith and Montgomery found another five people who didn't know Popovic's name but placed him in Cuska on May 14. Two of these people considered Popovic a commander.60
Another man identified as being in Cuska on May 14 is Zvonimir (Zvonko) Cvetkovic. One witness claimed to have seen Cvetkovic in Cuska on that day, and even to have spoken with him. The witness identified him immediately from the group photograph of the men in front of the truck, photograph no. 4 (Cvetkovic on far right), saying, "Of course I know Zvonko. We lived on the same street." Human Rights Watch later obtained a copy of Cvetkovic's passport that was found in the Petrans trucking company in Pec where he worked. The passport photo (photograph no. 5) appears to match the man in the group picture on the right. Another man, F.F., separately told Human Rights Watch that he had seen Zvonko Cvetkovic in Cuska on May 14, but he admitted to only learning his name later, and he did not see the photographs in Human Rights Watch's possession. Smith and Montgomery, however, had two other people separately identify Cvetkovic by name from the Petrans photograph. Both people claimed to have seen him in Cuska on May 14.61
Based on these identifications, Human Rights Watch believes there is strong evidence to place both Srecko Popovic and Zvonko Cvetkovic in Cuska on May 14. We do not have evidence, however, that either of these men participated directly in the execution of the forty-one men. It can only be said that they were present with the security forces when these executions, as well as the burning of homes and the theft of private property, took place. At the very least, they possess valuable information about the war crimes that were committed, including the names of commanders, and they should, therefore, be the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Two other ethnic Albanian men from Zahac, interviewed separately, said they recognized Slavisa Kastratovic in photograph no. 1 (third from left, next to Srecko Popovic) as a member of the security forces present in Zahac on May 14. One of the men who claimed to have had regular contact with local Serbs through his job, said that Kastratovic was from Gorazdevac and that he had worked in the Pik Trading Company. The other man claimed to have known Kastratovic personally. He told Human Rights Watch: "On May 14, I saw Slavisa Kastratovic. He spoke with me. He asked how I am. "I'm glad your sons are alive," he said. I only have young kids."62
Another person from Cuska, H.H., recognized Kastratovic from photograph no. 1, although she did not know his name. She told Human Rights Watch that he had been in Cuska on May 14, as well as on previous occasions in April when the security forces had checked the village.63 The testimony of the three witnesses from Cuska and Zahac provides some evidence that the same forces were involved in the actions in both places on May 14.
The other name that came up repeatedly in interviews was Vidomir Salipur, known by almost everyone in Pec and the surrounding villages simply as Salipur. Interviews and conversations with dozens of Pec residents relayed Salipur's reputation for brutality. A member of the Pec police department, he was known for eagerly beating and torturing ethnic Albanians on the street or in detention. Local human rights activists, journalists, and the KLA, as well as a number of ordinary Pec citizens told Human Rights Watch that Salipur was also the head of a local militia group or paramilitary called Munja, or "Lightning" in English, which was also Salipur's nickname.64 The group was apparently made up of local Serbs, some of whom were in the police and others who were civilians. According to Salipur's death announcement (see photograph no. 6), obtained by Human Rights Watch, he was killed by the KLA on April 8, 1999:
With great sadness we announce to family and friends that our dear
Salipur Vidomir-"The Lightning"_(1970-1999)
LAST SALUTE FROM COLLEAGUES AND OFFICERS FROM "OPG"
"PJP" refers to the special police forces under the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Posebna Jedinica Policije, or Police Special Unit). OPG stands for Operativna Grupa, or Operative Group, although it is not clear how this group fits into the structure of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs. The fact that Salipur, as a Serbian policeman, was apparently in a military unit together with ethnic Serbian civilians, possibly the Munja group, suggests that the Interior Ministry was aware of the activities of local militias, and may have organized and coordinated them On June 7, 1999, President Milosevic posthumously awarded Salipur, along with 911 other Ministry of Interior employees, the Order of Merit in Matters of Defence and Security of the First Degree for their "supression of terrorism" in Kosovo.65
Human Rights Watch obtained two photographs of Salipur together with a group of armed, uniformed men (photographs no. 7 and no. 8). In photograph no. 8, Salipur is seen crouching in the front row on the left, holding an Albanian flag. The identities of the other men are unknown.
In photograph no. 7, Salipur is standing in the middle of the back row wearing a cap in front of what appears to be a flag marking the Albanian-Yugoslav border. To his left is a man identified separately by two individuals as Nebojsa Minic, who has been directly implicated as the leader of a gang that extorted and then killed six members of one family, aged five to twenty-eight, in Pec on June 12 (see section above, A Final Killing). Two people who said they had had direct contact with Minic told Human Rights Watch that he is heavily tattooed with images of a knife, an axe, and a grenade on his forearm, and a dead man on his chest. The man in the front row of photograph no. 7, far left, was identified independently by two people, as well as by KLA sources, as "Milan," allegedly a friend of Salipur's, although no specific allegations were leveled against him. The identities of the other men in the photograph are unknown.
There is also some evidence of the involvement of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) in the attacks on Cuska, Pavljan, and Zahac. Local KLA authorities in Pec told Human Rights Watch in July they possessed a notebook that, they claimed, belonged to an officer in the VJ. Notes in the book mentioned a military build-up in the Cuska area prior to the May 14 killing, they said.
Shortly thereafter, Natasa Kandic from the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center published a report in which she mentioned the notebook of a VJ lieutenant shown to her by the KLA authorities in Pec.66 She wrote that the book:
[R]egister[ed] the military activites in the municipality of Pec after March 24. The entry for May 11 said that the focus of military activities should be shifted to Cuska and its vicinity. The local KLA headquarters in Pec also had a document marked confidential bearing the signature of the colonel in charge of the 125th Brigade.67
A subsequent article in the Western press claimed that the war crimes tribunal had found Yugoslav Army documents that ordered the "cleansing" of Cuska. A journalist for USA Today reported that he inspected a black vinyl, three-ringed notebook that contained a direct order typed on army stationery and stamped by the Supreme Defense Council of the Yugoslav Army Headquarters in Belgrade. The order reportedly said, "The aim of the military activity should be to cleanse Cuska and the surrounding villages and terrain."68 The article said that investigators from the war crimes tribunal had found the notebook on July 2 near an abandoned military headquarters in Kosovo.
With its proximity to the Albanian border and a high degree of KLA activity in the area, the village of Ljubenic just south of Pec was a constant focus of police attention and activity during 1998 and 1999. According to the OSCE, it was also the home village of a local KLA commander.69
According to villagers in Ljubenic, between March 24 and June 10, 1999, more than eighty villagers were killed by Serbian forces in different incidents. On July 10, Italian KFOR announced a possible mass grave containing 350 bodies, but these allegations turned out to be false. Thus far, tribunal investigators have discovered only nine bodies in three different sites around the village, but Human Rights Watch has received reports of over eighty execution-style killings in the area during this period.70
The first known incident in Ljubenic took place on May 25, 1998, when two Serbian policemen were ambushed by the KLA and wounded on the Pec-Djakovica road near the village.71 Police forces then shelled Ljubenic from a distance before entering the village, separating the men and women, and executing nine of the men.72 On May 29, the entire village fled, mostly to Albania, due to the government's spring offensive.
According to the OSCE, about 650 Albanians and 120 Serbs were living in the village as of January 1999.73 During the NATO campaign, the most serious incident took place on April 1. Numbers vary, but at least sixty-three men were killed at this time, according to numerous witnesses. At least twenty-five more people, nine of them from Ljubenic, were killed over the next week in the mountains to the west.
According to one of the village elders who spoke with Human Rights Watch, sixty-three men died on April 1, although witnesses and survivors who spoke with journalists claimed that the number was closer to eighty.74 Eight different eyewitnesses spoke with a variety of foreign journalists who wrote about the killings in the English-language press. Their reports are highly consistent. Six of them saw the killings taking place, one heard the shooting as she was walking away with the other woman and children, and one saw Serbian forces removing the bodies.
All of the witnesses said that Serbian forces arrived in the village around 7 a.m. on April 1. One claimed that an unidentified man from Pec had warned them the night before that the paramilitary forces were planning to come to the village.75 Some villagers fled into the nearby mountains when the forces arrived, but those who remained were ordered to gather in one spot. The men were then separated from the women, children, and elderly, who were told to leave the village on foot. The men were then interrogated about having weapons, and two men were shot in front of the group. Shortly thereafter, the security forces-one witness said three men-opened fire on the group. Nine villagers survived.
One woman who was sent away on foot told the London Times:
They told the women and children to go to Albania as they said we always wanted to do. . . . We had to leave the men behind but when we reached a main road we heard shooting and I knew something terrible had happened. Later when I reached Albania I learnt that my father had died.76
A man who survived the shooting told the Chicago Sun Times, "They divided the women and children from the men and told them to go to Albania. After that, they executed two men from the village in front of us, and after a while they started to shoot us, using all different kinds of weapons."77 One witness claimed to have seen "irregular forces" taking the bodies away on tractors.78
According to the testimonies provided to journalists, the nine survivors, some of them injured, crawled to a nearby forest, and then into the mountains. One wounded sixteen-year-old boy died. Most of the others eventually made it to Albania.
Some of those who escaped before the killing were then attacked over the next week in the mountains. According to the village elder who spoke with Human Rights Watch, nine people from Ljubenic were killed in the mountains, as well as fourteen people from Bucane (Buqan), three people from Krusevac (Krusec), and one from Prilep (Prejlep). Many bodies are still missing, he said. The high number of landmines in the area has prevented a final tally by villagers or investigators from the war crimes tribunal.
One survivor who was in the mountains told a journalist from the Associated Press, "We were attacked from all sides. . . . They threw people from the rocks down into the streams."79 Another survivor told the Irish Times, "We ran up the mountain, we ran down the mountain, we lost nine people in all. Four were women, two were children. Everywhere we went were the bullets."80
The area around Ljubenic had a lot of KLA activity in the eighteen months preceding the April 1 killings, which may have been a motivation. Furthermore, four different witnesses told journalists that one of the armed Serbs who opened fire said that the KLA had killed his brother.81 One of these four witnesses claimed that the man said his brother had been taken off a train some months before and killed by the KLA. Another witness said the man appeared to be the youngest of the group.
The OSCE report on Kosovo also mentions a man who said his brother had been killed by the KLA. The report quotes a survivor of the killing who overheard the armed Serb as saying "Your KLA killed my brother! Is what they did to my brother okay?" One old man reportedly tried to negotiate with the Serbian forces, and reminded them of what had happened in May 1998 when the police killed nine men. The armed Serbs allegedly responded: "The `police?' Well, this is not the police, this is the army!" and then shot the old man.82 One witness who spoke with the Providence Journal gave a similar account, although it is not known if this is the same man who spoke with the OSCE. According to this witness, the armed Serbs interrupted the elderly Albanian who was trying to negotiate and said, "You son of a bitch old man, come here. . . . We are not Serbian police. We are Serbian soldiers."83
The OSCE report, which puts the number killed on April 1 at sixty-six, includes the findings of an OSCE visit to Ljubenic on July 1, 1999. Near where the men had been killed, the report says, the OSCE saw scattered clothes and empty bullet casings at the spot from which the Serbian forces were said to have shot. In a nearby house, five sites were seen where bodies appeared to have been burned.84