Ex-Soldiers in Kosovo Massacre Trial Urge Serbian Court to Acquit

Nine former Yugoslav Army soldiers on trial in Belgrade called on the court to acquit them of war crimes in four Kosovo villages near Peja/Pec in April and May 1999, when 118 ethnic Albanians were killed.

The nine ex-soldiers accused of the forcible displacement and killings of ethnic Albanian civilians during Yugoslav Army attacks on the villages of Qyshk/Cuska, Pavlan/Pavljan, Zahaq/Zahac and Lubeniq/Ljubenic during the Kosovo war called on Belgrade Higher Court on Friday to find them not guilty.

Toplica Miladinovic, the first defendant on the indictment, who is accused of ordering the attacks, told the court that he is not guilty and that he was not present at the crime scenes.

“I heard from the indictment [about the crimes],” Miladinovic told the court.

His lawyer Goran Petronijevic claimed there are no credible evidence that Miladinovic ordered the attacks on the four villages near the city of Peja/Pec in April and May 1999.

“The [giving of] an order is proved by the personal presence [of the person who gave it], or [evidence of] the order being received, [but] we are getting [evidence] from second, third-hand [testimonies], from retellings. An oral order is inadmissible in terms of the way the Yugoslav Army functioned,” Petronijevic said.

The case against Miladinovic had been separated from the case against the other defendants due to ill-health but was rejoined to the main case on Friday.

Asserting his innocence, defendant Slavisa Kastratovic told the court that his family lives in Kosovo and that “if I did any of this [in the indictment], my family would not be able to live in Kosovo”.

Defendant Boban Bogocevic also denied guilt, but expressed pride in having served in the Yugoslav Army. “I am proud that I responded to the homeland and I never regret doing it,” he said.

All the other defendants also said that they are not guilty.

The nine former members of the 177th Yugoslav Army Unit are accused of participating in attacks that left at least 118 ethnic Albanians dead.

Last week, prosecutor Bruno Vekaric called for 20-year sentences for defendants Miladinovic, Lazar Pavlovic, Abdulah Sokic, Sinisa Misic and Predrag Vukovic. He also called for five-year jail terms for Kastratovic, Bogicevic and Veljko Koricanin. and three years for Milan Ivanovic. Their lawyers called for acquittals.

The court announced on Friday that the verdict in the marathon legal process will be delivered on April 24.

The former soldiers first went on trial in 2010. They were initially convicted in 2014 and sentenced to a total of 106 years in jail, but the appeal court reversed the verdict in 2015 and sent the case for retrial.

The retrial has been marred by delays and repeated postponements of hearings. Over the past 12 months, just eight hearings were scheduled.

Three of these hearings were postponed because either defendants or witnesses did not come to court.

12/04/2024 - 13:36

12 April 2024 - 13:36

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