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Mass graves and burning furnaces as markers of Balkan genocide
Publikuar më 02 korrik, 2012 nė orėn 01:07 ( ) English |
Rrit madhësinë e shkronjave
Stranger Than Sci-Fi:

Part 2: Refrigerator trucks, mass graves and burning furnaces as markers of Balkan genocide

“The point was not to hide the bodies in graves but to totally destroy them. It would be as though these people never existed…” (from American Radiowork’s “Burning the Evidence,” 2001)

Sometimes silence is not so golden. Sometimes silence hides deep, malevolent secrets. In which case we bear a very real responsibility to pierce that silence, the multiple layers of denial.

The story of the Kosovo genocide and cover-up runs like a convoluted, over-the-top plotline for a CSI episode: mass slaughter, decaying bodies, inexplicably empty gravesites. Evidence and intimidated witnesses a plenty. Scores of mass graves. Mysterious, anonymous sources. Hush money and not-such-subtle threats. Protected witnesses with masked identities and distorted, other-worldly voices.

But the question persists: where are all the missing bodies? How do we piece together all the disparate parts of the puzzle into one clear and coherent picture?

Here’s the background: between 1998 and June 1999, up to 12,000 Kosovar Albanian men, women and children were murdered by a lethal mix of Serbian “security” forces. Some 800,000 were forcibly deported, or fled in terror. It was called ethnic cleansing, with a nod and a wink – cleansing the area of undesirable elements. Meaning, in this case, the Albanians. Mass rape of women, and an uncontrolled outburst of brutality and sadism were the inevitable consequences of such extreme dehumanizaton.

Kosovar refugees streaming towards the border, desperate to escape Serb forces
Spring, 1999

That orgy of killing and violence was halted only after a 78 day air war intervention by NATO ultimately forced Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic to permanently withdraw his forces from Kosovo.

But thousands of people, mostly Kosovar Albanians, remained missing, never to return home, even after a post Milosevic, 2001 amnesty eventually freed hundreds of ethnic Albanian political prisoners from Serbian jails. “So where are all the bodies?!” taunted the genocide deniers: Had they all simply gone up in smoke?

That lingering conundrum has haunted me ever since – where had all the bodies gone? For someone whose family was decimated in an earlier European genocide, the question posed a kind of moral obligation. Somehow I felt my life and my work to be inexorably linked with the fate of the victims of the Balkan genocides.

Starting in 1999 I began to visit the Balkans – the remnants of the former Yugoslavia. That quest eventually led to the office of Sonia Biserko, the most prominent human rights advocate in Belgrade, Serbia’s oft-beleaguered but now thriving capital. Biserko is a remarkable and compassionate woman who always offers a fiercely original and intelligent perspective.

Sonia Biserko –Filling in for Serbia’a missing conscience?

Sonia immediately put my friends and I at ease, patiently responding to our endless queries. “And what’s happened,” I finally ventured, “to all the missing Albanian bodies?” “We are sleeping over them,” was her enigmatic response. It was an unsettling suggestion that left many more questions than it resolved.

Since that time, many people have sought to determine the fate of those bodies.

One of the first hopeful public breaks came in early 2001 with the groundbreaking report from American RadioWorks (ARW) called “Burning the Evidence.” That report, based on the research of journalists Michael Montgomery and Stephen Smith, was first broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR) in January 2001, and sent out shockwaves throughout the world.

The ARW report was based on separate and independently conducted interviews of at least six Serbian fighters, combined with several exploratory visits to the Trepca Mine in northern Kosova.

Michael Montgomery and Stephen Smith, c. 2000 Trepca Mines (in background) as a final repository of genocide

“Burning the Evidence” details the burning of hundreds of Kosovar Albanian bodies at the Trepca Mining complex, in industrial furnaces firing at over 1,000 degrees. The scorching temperatures reached hundreds of degrees higher than crematoria at Nazi concentration camps during World War 2.

Crematoria at Buchenwald – Incinerating the evidence of the Holocaust (courtesy of the USHMM, from April 14, 1945)

Montgomery’s report makes for fascinating reading; listening to the audio text is compelling and deeply disturbing.

Members of the Serbian police, army and intelligence services independently admitted to the ARW team that they took part in a massive effort to hide war crimes evidence by digging up corpses from mass graves and burning them in a lead refinery in northern Kosovo.

The sources, who each spoke on condition of anonymity, said the operation was coordinated by an elite unit of the Serbian security service, under orders from close associates of former leader Slobodan Milosevic.

“The point was not to hide the bodies in graves but to totally destroy them,” commented one Serbian fighter, identified in the documentary only as Branko:

“It would be as if those people never existed. I think our people understood that sooner or later some of these Western organizations like the Hague Tribunal… might come into Kosovo. We needed a good way to destroy evidence.”

As Susanne Ringgaard, who once coordinated victim identification in Kosovo for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) candidly acknowledged, "The Serbs learned their lesson from Bosnia – destroy the evidence.”

The Serbian soldiers describe, in detail, how they transported the bodies from graves and massacre sites in refrigerated, civilian trucks to a lead refinery in northern Kosovo. Here is a link to our 2011 report on the burning of bodies:

The initial reaction to the ARW report was one of shock and horror. But the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), in yet another of its less than prescient calls, never followed up on the mass burning allegations. Perhaps they feared the documentation would be problematic; in fact, most of the hard evidence had gone up in smoke and ash, literally. Milosevic and his willing executioners had apparently succeeded in their nefarious scheme.

But the ARW report was only the beginning. And those refrigerator trucks which featured so prominently in the ARW report, would soon return center stage. To put it bluntly, the shit was about to hit the fan.

What followed inside Serbia only a few months later rocked the nation. Back in October, 2000, Milosevic had finally been deposed. Zoran Djindjic, Serbia’s new reformist prime minister – under immense pressure from the west – was determined to have Slobo extradited to the Hague. In May 2001, it was announced that a number of suspected mass graves had “suddenly” been discovered, in and around police training grounds throughout Serbia.

The Serbian public, having been force-fed for years on a steady diet of crass Milosevic propaganda, was startled. Public sympathy shifted away from Slobo. The following month, on June 28th – the Serbian sacred day of Vidovan, Slobo was shuttled off to the Hague to face charges on genocide and crimes against humanity. The decade-long nightmare was at last over, but the final reckoning from all the carnage was only just beginning.

Slobodan Milosevic, Butcher of the Balkans Extradited to the Hague on “Vidovan,”, June 28th 2001 He died in Hague custody, March 11, 2006

Zoran Djindjic, Serbia’s pragmatic reformer – His 2003 assassination was a major setback for Serbia democracy

The stranger-than-fiction revelations had first broken in early April 1999, in an obscure local Serbian crime magazine called the Timocka Criminal Review. Timochka claimed that a refrigerator truck containing some 50 corpses had been discovered beneath the waters of the Danube at a city called Kladovo, in eastern Serbia.
The truck was pulled out of the icy river in the midst of NATO’s air war, on April 6, 1999 – but the Milosevic regime had managed to keep the whole matter under tight wraps. It wasn’t until May 2001 that some of the tangled threads were beginning to disentangle. Serbia’s newly reformed press went into full throttle.

Talk about the unraveling of a massive cover-up. Milosevic’s sordid cover up made the Watergate scandal a quarter century earlier look like a tepid little tempest in a teapot by comparison.

Watergate scandal, 1973-4
Too many crooked cooks spoiled the broth?

The details of the Kosovo genocide and subsequent cover-up are bizarre but engrossing – assuming you have the stomach for it all

The vehicle of transmission, so to speak, was the ostensibly innocent-looking refrigerator truck, preferably of the Mercedes Benz variety. Actually dozens of them, transporting bodies north to mass graves, rivers, or one of several industrialized furnaces. Blade Runner meets Third Reich madness.

Here is a vivid description of that first shocking discovery, as retold by Zivojin Djordjevic, a diver who discovered the first refrigerator truck in 1999, to Serbia’s then alternative B-92 radio in 2001:

"It was a Mercedes truck - the name of the meat processing company from Pec (in Kosovo) was written in Albanian on the cabin," Djordjevic told the radio station, confirming the original 1999 Timocka story.

"The license plates were from Pec. A huge stone had been placed on the accelerator pedal to send the truck plunging into the water.”

"When the truck was pulled out and the doors of the freezer opened, corpses started sliding out” he explained. “There were many bodies of women, children and old people. Some women had Turkish trousers, some children and old people were naked."

The then Serbian interior ministry pronounced the affair a state secret and blocked all investigation. The prosecutor at the time, Krsta Majstorovic, was asked why no investigation was going on. Majstorovic’s Orwellian response: "Because nothing has happened!"

The next day on April 7, 1999, the corpses were taken by a freezer truck with Belgrade number plates to the police training compound in Petrovo Selo where it was destroyed with 30 kilograms of explosives. So much for the intrepid Mercedes.

Mercedes refrigerator truck –
Dozens of such trucks were used to transport Kosovar Albanian bodies to mass graves or industrialized furnaces in northern Kosovar and throughout Serbia

There’s no shortage of testimony and accompanying evidence backing up the refrigerator truck anecdotes. Here is one sample of official witness testimony, painting a vivid picture of Serbia’s desperate cover-up, from an account of “Protected Witness K-88” at the Hague trial of the so-called Kosovo 6 in 2007:

“The witness claimed he saw six trucks arriving to the SAJ (police) base in Batajnica in the spring of 1999. They were loaded with the dead bodies of Kosovo Albanians.”

The bodies were then buried in eight mass graves at the firing range on the police training grounds. At the same time, Serbian police officers set the tires on fire to prevent NATO from observing the location.

Defendants in the “Kosovo Six” trial at the ICTY: Milutinovic (upper row, middle) acquitted of all charges, 5 convicted and sentenced to a total of 96 years for crimes against humanity

“The trucks full of dead bodies remained in the base up to 15 days,” K-88 patiently explained. “Something was leaking from the trucks.”

Before digging the necessary pits, K-88 and his colleagues spilled gasoline on the area, then set the soil on fire, since they “could not fight the stench of the leakage with toilet cleaning acid.”

BBC map of major mass grave exhumations, 2001-2003
The remains of some 900 Kosovar Albanians were eventually exhumed
(Alleged mass gravesite at Rudnica is also included)

As if this wasn’t horrendous enough, the witness added one extra, ghoulish detail to the court proceedings:

Apparently the transporting vehicles were in very poor conditions and the transports themselves “quite chaotic.” The witness spoke with one of the drivers of the trucks, who reported that “the side of the truck broke” on their way from Kosovo, and some 50 bodies fell out on the road.

“They had to stop and pick them up,” he noted, “before continuing to Belgrade.”

Not surprisingly, all six truck drivers had worn Serbian police uniforms, and one was a state security officer who “spoke with a Montenegrin accent.”

Another prosecution witness at the trial, Bosko Radovic, graphically described what he saw inside a refrigerator truck, dragged out of the water near the Serbian town of Kladovo in early April, 1999:

“Only one man was killed with automatic weapons and had his hands tied with wire. We were counting bodies by the head. In one part was 53 bodies and three heads without bodies.

“None of the victims were wearing KLA uniforms,” the witness continued, “and all appeared to be civilians from Suva Reka (in Kosovo), killed with knives or blunt objects…”
Another rare and insistent voice of Serbian official truth-telling belongs to Police Captain Dragan Karleusa, one-time deputy head of the police organized crime unit in Belgrade. Karleusa gave repeated interviews to the press, apparently without fear of repercussion.

Karleusa claimed he was stunned by the discovery of the refrigerator truck back in April 1999: “We started investigating a single incident, but ended up with a very big case… We ended up chasing a wolf…”

At least ten, perhaps dozens of truckloads of bodies were shipped from Kosovo to Serbia proper and dumped underwater or in mass graves.

“This whole operation was a crazy thing to do, a crime and for us incomprehensible,” Captain Karleusa declared. “The goal was to hide something.”

Serbian Police Captain Dragan Karleusa
“We ended up chasing a wolf…”

Yet another witness came forward to share his experiences, as recorded by Ivan Nikolic of the prestigious IWPR (International War and Peace Reporting.) According to an account in the prominent Belgrade newspaper Danas, an anonymous army reservist who saw a truck being dumped into a lake in the spring of 1999 reported that the bodies had floated to the surface and then had been pulled out by the police and buried nearby:

“This is a shame,” he lamented. “They buried 50 people, and I am supposed to take my children to this lake and swim. We are all living here with the fact that they buried human bodies and are still silent.”

“It was night time, I saw a freezer truck being pushed into the lake,” the reservist continued. “They previously lowered the water level. Then they fired a rocket into the truck to sink it. But the corpses began to emerge from the hole the missile made. They took them out and buried them in the estuary of the river Derrenta, near the village of Rastiste. The operation,” he maintained, “was characterized as a state secret.”

A senior police officer told IWPR that witnesses to the incident were first threatened and then paid 20 German marks (appr. 12 US dollars) in hush money to keep silent about the whole thing. “That’s true,” confirmed a government official who wished to remain anonymous. “The witnesses of the horror near Kladovo,” he added, “were silenced in the same way.”

According to IWPR’s source in the Serbian government, yet another freezer truck filled with Albanians was sunk in the Danube in April 1999, not far from the Djerdap hydroelectric dam. “We have witnesses,” he added.

Interestingly, each of the reported locations of refrigerator truck incidents are within easy reach of the N752 highway that links Kladovo, via Nis, with Pristina. A perfect, direct route of transmission for body disposal.

The same government source reported that VJ (Yugoslav army) members drove some of those freezer trucks. “Do you know what their officers told them to do? Collect the bodies in a pile, splash them with petrol and burn them. When they found that not everything would burn, these young men had to load them onto trucks with shovels.”

The soldiers responsible for that grisly task ended up, for some period of time, in the Military Academy Hospital in Belgrade. In their medical records – which IWPR read – doctors reported that the men were suffering from grave psychological disorders “caused by the burial of corpses.” Small wonder.

Yet another shocking revelation was quick to follow: on July 17th of the same year, Serbia’s new interior minister, Dusan Mihailovic, announced at a press conference that three brothers named Bytyqi – all US citizens of Albanian origin, were among the bodies exhumed at Petrovo Selo, one of the newly discovered mass graves. Three Americans citizens, whose killers have yet to be found and prosecuted until today.

The bodies of these three men were in much better shape than the others, having been deposited at the mass grave in completely different circumstances.

Funeral for the Bytyqi brothers, held in the USA
(March 5, 2002)

"These bodies were more preserved than others,” explained Mihailovic, “and there were firearm wounds in the region of their heads." The written verdict of a Serbian judge in Kursumlija, dated 27 June 1999, was found in the jacket of one of the corpses. It sentenced them to 15 days imprisonment for violating their foreigners' stay permits.

The killings of the Bytyqi brothers and the others in the grave clearly took
place after the Kumanovo peace agreement was signed, ending the conflict in
Kosovo. The lack of closure in the Bytyqi case remains one of several sore points between the Serbian and US governments.

While the Serbian police acknowledged that the bodies found in the mass graves were the remains of Kosovo Albanians, then president Kostunica condemned the statement as "premature and irresponsible". He urged the Serbian Justice Ministry not to hand the bodies over to the UN in Kosovo because, he ventured, “they could be victims of Serbian nationality".

It took nearly five years for many of the bodies and mixed remains to finally make their way back to Kosova. “They were returned,” it was later explained to us, with not a little derision, “in dribs and drabs.”

The actual exhumations at the various mass graves were quite a gruesome affair.

Batajnica, the main location, was not a sight for those with overly sensitive sensibilities, as one journalist from IWPR who viewed the exhumation up close and personal, later reported:

Albanian bodies exhumed from mass graves in Serbia (Belgrade police grounds, 2001)

“A semicircular tent covers the excavation pit, which exudes an almost unbearably strong smell. The stench comes from the bodies…of Kosovo Albanians murdered during the conflict there with Serbian forces in 1999, and then transported north as part of a… cover-up to ensure the world never knew of the atrocities… a shapeless , black, glittering mass about 2.5 meters down immediately caught the reporter’s eye. It was a mass of plastic bags containing bodies.”

They had been buried in layers. Some had clearly been pushed into the grave by people, while others had been shoved in by diggers, or tipped in by dumper truck.

Aleksandar Ciric, of Belgrade’s highly respected Vreme (November 2002), picks up the story, in ghastly detail:

“The bodies were then doused with gasoline and set on fire. However, the whole attempt to destroy evidence failed.”

“They resembled statues made of gypsum…”
Bodies preserved like ancient citizens of Pompeii?

“The bodies had been pulled out of water. Consequently, while in water, the body fat had turned into soaps, which later solidified, so they resembled statues made of gypsum. Thus,” Ciric explains, “they were hardly damaged by fire.”

The next explosive revelation was lobbed by Belgrade veteran human rights advocate Natasa Kandic. In December 2004, Kandic went public with yet more revelations of mass burning of Albanian bodies – this time at an industrial site inside Serbia. The complex is called Mackatica and is located in Surdulica, not far from the border with Kosovo.

Kandic claimed that on two specific occasions in 1999 – May 16th and May 24th – both times after midnight, bodies were incinerated in the furnaces of Mackatica. Security for the ghoulish proceedings, according to Kandic, was provided by the notorious Red Berets, whose leader Milorad “Legija” was later found guilty and sentenced to 120 years in prison for the assassination of Zoran Djindjic.

Red Berets notorious leader Milorad “Legija” – Serving 120 years in prison

The impromptu decision on the use of the Mackatica factory as ad hoc crematorium was apparently prompted by the discovery of the refrigerator truck full of corpses near Kladovo, in April of 1999.

According to Kandic, those charged with the "restoration of the terrain” then revoked the original order to bury the bodies transported from Kosovo via Bujanovac in some inaccessible locations, and introduced a new and desperate technique: destroying the evidence by fire. The large furnaces developed temperatures of up to 1,700 degrees Celsius.

Kandic’s initial revelations were buttressed by two IWPR follow-up investigations in 2005:
“No one told us what was being transported…” explained one plant worker to IWPR. “But I know many people who took part in it and saw some of it myself… Direct participants confirmed to me what I had seen. Bodies were brought to the factory and burned there… I was not present at the very act of the burning of the bodies but I could see the trucks being unloaded.”

A second source claimed that he personally witnessed the bodies being unloaded. “For days afterwards, you could smell burned flesh in Surdulica. I know what this smell is like,” he continued, “as I have been on all the battlefronts in the former Yugoslavia.

Another source, identified as an inspector in Milosevic’s secret police, assured IWPR that the Serbian police possess "precise and systematized information" on how the bodies were burned there:

“There is clear data on this in local police archives, marked Strictly Confidential… The people who participated in the whole action were staying at the Theranda Hotel in Prizren. Such a job had been prepared for a long time and could not be completed in a day or two,” he assured IWPR. “The local public and secret police know everything but this is being concealed also because current as well as former police officials and ordinary operatives were involved.”

Prizren’s stylish Theranda hotel, currently under renovation Was it a headquarters for covering up genocide?

"Everything is contained in the police documentation,” claims this source, “from the code name of the action to the list of people who stayed at the Theranda Hotel and worked on the ‘sanitation of the terrain’ to those who loaded the trucks and drove them to the Mackatica factory, where Legija and his team took over the whole thing.”

It is also known exactly who drove and who escorted the trucks with the bodies, who was in charge of covering up the action at the factory itself and who directly handled the furnaces during the burning.

The names of those who were later in charge of eliminating the traces at the factory and those whose job it was to conceal the truth from the local public are also known. Finally, there is a list of politicians who were familiar with all of this, when the action was being planned.
The former police officer claimed he knew most of these names personally but was fearful of divulging them publicly. Along with all others who possessed direct knowledge of the burnings, he had encountered strong pressure to keep quiet.

"All those in any way connected to the events at Mackatica in May 1999 are being exposed to threats, pressures and blackmail," he emphasized. "I fear for my safety and for that of my family. The participants in the crime in Mackatica would know it was me who revealed the secrets, which they are doing their utmost to hide."

IWPR's first source, the shift worker at Mackatica, claimed that several other witnesses who saw the trucks with bodies entering the factory were still out there.

"Other people know what was done, although everything was done for the operation to be carried out in the utmost secrecy," he said. They were all subject to threats and blackmail, he added, to prevent the story from becoming more public. In spite of that, this source said he was ready to testify in public.

IWPR also spoke to a fourth direct source on the events at Mackatica. This source wanted neither his residence nor job divulged but insisted he was present at both burnings in May 1999:

“Everything took place after midnight, but I remember there was a clear sky and moonlight. I saw, for a few minutes and from a distance of about ten meters (33 feet), bodies being unloaded from a truck and transported in a large factory push-cart to the part of the factory where the furnaces are located.”

This source said he "knew for sure" that some of the bodies were of women and children. He insisted he did not participate in the burning.

None of IWPR's sources were able to estimate the exact number of bodies unloaded and burned at Mackatica, though one said they had been transported in "more than ten trucks," which suggests a sizable number indeed.

Natasa Kandic – Serbia’s tough, inveterate human rights advocate

In her article in Danas, Kandic cited several of Milosevic's most trusted associates as key figures behind the operation. Among all the names Kandic mentioned, one of the most interesting is that of Djordjevic. One of several generals arrested for war crimes in Kosovo in 1999, he was born in Koznica, only miles from Mackatica.

Djordjevic is known to have been a key figure in the area whose word was virtually law.
According to Kandic, he kept all the local power structures, especially the police, under his absolute control.

Vlastimir “Rodja” Djordjevic Sentenced to 27 years for crimes against humanity

In February, 2011, the U.N. court sentenced Police Commander Vlastimir Djordjevic to 27 years in prison after pronouncing him guilty of murdering at least 724 Kosovo Albanians to crimes against humanity, specifically: committing inhumane acts, persecution and deportations.

Presiding Judge Kevin Parker ruled that Serbian forces, often police explicitly controlled by Djordjevic, expelled at least 200,000 Kosovo Albanians from Kosovo and murdered civilian women, children and the disabled. Prosecutors say about 800,000 Albanians in total were forcibly ejected from Kosovo during the conflict.

Serbian forces were no stranger to burning Albanians, according to evidence presented at the trial. In one massacre alone, on March 26, 1999, Serb forces herded 114 men and boys into a barn, including a disabled man whose wheelchair was used to block one of the exits, according to the judgment. The Serbs then riddled the barn with bullets from automatic weapons before pouring incendiary liquid over the bodies, then torching the barn and all those inside.

In another mass murder, 45 members of the same family were killed, including 32 women and children who hid in a cafe. "Police threw hand grenades inside the cafe and then opened fire on them," Parker said.

Parker also said Djordjevic played a "key role" in trying to cover up more than 800 killings by secretly having bodies removed from Kosovo, sometimes in refrigerated trucks, and buried in mass graves in Serbia.

Most of the men and women in living in Surdulica whom IWPR interviewed refused to speak with journalists about the body burnings, or stubbornly defended them. None bothered to deny that “something” had happened, but in the town itself, where the hard-line nationalist Serbian Radical Party maintained power, there was a virtual conspiracy of silence.

In a cafe in the town center, graffiti proudly proclaimed: "Serbia for the Serbs".
"So what if they did burn Shiptars (a derogatory name for Albanians),” one resident indignantly declared to the IWPR journalists. "They deserved nothing better. Why don't you write about the crimes against Serbs in Kosmet (a Serb nationalist expression for Kosovo) today?"

Surdulica – Mackatica factory complex
Another site of genocide cover-up?

One shop saleswoman was a bit more conciliatory. "Hardly anyone dares to speak
publicly about it," was all that she would say on the grim events in the nearby factory.

Late in 2010, Natatsa Kandic once again confirmed the Mackatica allegations: “Yes,” she declared, “I stand behind the revelations of the Mackatica body burning accusations, and the subsequent cover-up. The authorities here claimed there was no record of a power supply to the Mackatica complex at that time (May, 1999)… I don’t believe them… I stand behind my statements.”

Sonia Biserko, president of the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights also supports a tough and all-encompassing investigation into all war crimes charges.

We demand a proper and thorough investigation of both the Trepca and Mackatica atrocities and their subsequent cover-ups, which were never appropriately followed up
by the Hague tribunal. In the case of Trepca, we insist that EULEX (European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo) officials open a full-fledged investigation in conjunction with relevant Serbian and Kosovar authorities.

In the case of Mackatica, we demand that present-day Serbian authorities initiate an honest and open investigation into both the crimes of Mackatica and subsequent cover-up. Furthermore, we believe that this is meaningful only within the context of full international pressure and close supervision.

In addition, we demand that all suspected mass grave sites be promptly examined and, when appropriate, exhumed. This is particularly the case of the Raska site in southern Serbia, which was publicly acknowledged in May, 2010. This is the sixth mass grave site, inside Serbia identified since 2001.

An aerial photo of the site of a mass grave in Serbia believed to contain the bodies of 250 ethnic Albanians. Photograph: Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images

The Raska site is reportedly based on various witness statements, together with an analysis of aerial photographs, all supplied to Serbian authorities by EULEX officials. A building and parking lot were reportedly constructed directly over the site, in order to cover up the incriminating evidence.

A building and parking lot – constructed just after the war to hide the evidence?

The day of the initial revelations, Vladimir Vukcevic, Serbia’s war crimes prosecutor, dramatically declared: “This is more proof that Serbia does not shy away from its dark past and is ready to bring to justice all those who have committed crimes.” Yet more than two years later, the Raska site remains untouched. According to Serbian experts, nearby soil tests had proved “inconclusive.”

Vladimir Vukcevic, Serbia’s war crimes prosecutor
“This is more proof that Serbia does not shy away from its dark past…”

An official from EULEX recently confirmed to us that EULEX is still waiting for Serbian officials to take action on the Raska site. “What’s the problem?” I imprudently inquired. “Politics…” was the official’s standard response. Apparently Serbia is, in fact, determined to hide away from its dark past.

The most recent bit of forthcoming evidence, quiet and low-key as it was, has come to us courtesy of the 2010 exhumation of the Drina riverbed, at the infamous Lake Perucac. Divers went searching for additional corpses of Albanians from Kosovo that were found in that infamous refrigerator truck in the lake back in 2001.

Amor Masovic, head of Bosnia’s Missing Persons Commission, reported that although the truck's chassis had been located, no sign was found of any remains of the ethnic Albanians. Dozens of bodies from the truck had been exhumed in 2003, but it was believed more may be in the lake as the vehicle's doors were found open.

Volunteers searching for bodies on the shores of Lake Perucac in the summer of 2010 – 396 “cases” of remains found, mainly Bosnians from Visegrad, plus a handful of German and Austrian soldiers from the world wars, and the chassis of a refrigerator truck

In total, over 1,800 men, women and children remain missing from the war, among them at least 1,000 Albanians, nearly 500 Serbs, and hundreds of members of other ethnicities. All with family members who anxiously await some news of their loved ones.

Repatriation of missing family members continues to be a distant dream for too many people in former Yugoslavia. A proper and respectful burial remains a fundamental guiding principle for cultures throughout the world.

Without a full and upfront examination into the myriad horrors of the past, the ongoing pretense of “peace, stability and regional progress” remains just so much empty, hollow rhetoric.

Serbia, in particular, must learn to take its place as a civilized nation. It must be willing to honestly and courageously face up to its legacy of war crimes; otherwise, it will simply continue to serve as a blind haven for notorious international fugitives from justice, and the massive criminal cover-ups that keep any meaningful justice at bay.

The international community has a clear and distinct responsibility to dig up the truth, inconvenient as it might sometimes prove.

Kosovo Serbs hold pictures of friends and relatives, who were missing or killed in Kosovo, during a protest rally in front of the parliament building in Belgrade, Serbia, Monday Nov. 17, 2008 (AP File)

Missing Persons display in Pristina “Where are the missing?!”

By Robert Leonard Rope

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