Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti at the commemoration of Izbice/Izbica massacre on Thursday. Photo: Prime Minister's Office

Kosovo PM Urges More Prosecutions as Wartime Massacres Commemorated

As commemorations in Izbice/Izbica and Podujeve/Podujevo marked the 25th anniversary of massacres by Serbian forces that left more than 160 Kosovo Albanian civilians dead, Prime Minister Albin Kurti called for more suspects to be charged.

Gani Behrami, whose father who was killed 25 years ago in a wartime massacre committed by Serbian forces in Izbice/Izbica, was one of hundreds of mourners who gathered at the village memorial on Thursday to commemorate the anniversary.

Behrami told BIRN that while he was sheltering from the violence in the hills around the village, Serbian forces approached civilians near the village and first separated men from women.

“Initially they tortured the men then separated them into two groups. They ordered the women and children to depart to Albania,” Behrami recalled.

“Serbian forces remained here for two days here after the execution of the civilians. Then we approached the scene and started the identification of the bodies as much as we could. We buried them the next day,” he added.

On March 28, 1999, Serbian forces killed a total of 147 Albanian civilians in Izbice/Izbica. The surviving villagers hastily buried the bodies of their relatives and neighbours and then fled Kosovo for Albania to escape the Serbian offensive, but when they returned after the war ended later in 1999, the bodies had disappeared.

They only found out several years later that the bodies had been reburied, mainly at a police training centre in Petrovo Selo in Serbia, as part of an attempted cover-up.

The commemoration of Izbice/Izbica massacre on Thursday. Photo: BIRN.

In March 2022, Kosovo’s Special Prosecution filed an indictment charging Muhamet Alidemaj, an ethnic Albanian who holds Serbian citizenship, with involvement in committing war crimes against the civilian population of Izbice/Izbica on March 28, 1999. The defendant pleaded not guilty and his trial is ongoing in a Pristina court.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti who also visited the memorial in Izbice/Izbica on Thursday, said the fact that only one person has been indicted for the crimes is not enough.

“I think it is unjust and unbearable that only one person has been arrested for this massacre because now they [Serbian suspects] can be tried in absentia,” Kurti said.

Early on Thursday, Kurti also visited the village of Podujeve/Podujevo to commemorate the anniversary of the deaths of 14 civilians from the Bogujevci, Llugaliu and Duriqi families who were killed 25 years ago.

“They remind us how high the price was for a state and the freedom which we enjoy today,” Kurti said.

Sasa Cvjetan, a member of the Scorpions paramilitary group was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Serbian court for his role in the Podujeve/Podujevo killings, while Miodrag Solaja, another member of the group, was sentenced to 15 years.

Cvjetan was granted early release in 2018 and Solaja was granted early release in 2019.

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28 March 2024 - 16:37

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