Belgrade Higher Court. Photo: BIRN.

Serbian Prosecutor Urges Prison Sentences for Kosovo Killings

The Serbian war crimes prosecution urged Belgrade Higher Court to send nine former Yugoslav Army soldiers to jail for war crimes against civilians in four Kosovo villages around the town of Peja/Pec in the spring of 1999.

Prosecutor Bruno Vekaric told Belgrade Higher Court on Wednesday that nine Yugoslav Army ex-soldiers should be jailed for participation in the forcible displacement and killings of ethnic Albanian civilians during an attack on four villages near Peja/Pec in April and May 1999.

Vekaric said in the prosecution’s closing arguments that the defendants’ responsibility for the crimes committed in the villages of Qyshk/Cuska, Pavlan/Pavljan, Zahaq/Zahac and Lubeniq/Ljubenic during the Kosovo war had been established based on evidence, testimonies and documentation.

He also cited aggravating circumstances such as the defendants’ behaviour during the long-running proceedings.

“Never during these 14 years [since the trial started] did they show remorse or regret for their actions,” Vekaric told the court.

He called for 20-year sentences for defendants Toplica Miladinovic, Lazar Pavlovic, Abdulah Sokic, Sinisa Misic and Predrag Vukovic. He also called for five-year jail terms for Slavisa Kastratovic, Boban Bogicevic and Veljko Koricanin and three years for Milan Ivanovic.

However, as Miladinovic did not attend Wednesday’s hearing due to a health issue, the case against him was separated from the case against the other eight defendants.

In March, the court also separated the case against another defendant, Vladan Krstovic, from the others because it has not yet been established whether he is medically capable of participating in the proceedings.

Most of the defendants’ lawyers also gave their closing statements on Wednesday, urging the court to acquit their clients.

Bogicevic’s lawyer Krsto Bobot said there is no “direct or indirect” evidence that his client participated in the commission of crimes.

He questioned whether prosecution witness Zoran Raskovic, a former member of the Jackals paramilitary unit, was credible because of his own involvement in crimes.

“I don’t know how the court will establish which actions Bogicevic carried out if it relies on the testimonies of so-called crucial witnesses,” Bobot said, referring to Raskovic and another former member of Jackals who testified anonymously as a protected witness.

Other defence lawyers also questioned the credibility of Raskovic, who told the court in 2015 that his fellow troops executed more than around 60 men in the Kosovo village of Lubeniq/Ljubenic on April 1, 1999, and also testified about crimes in Qyshk/Cuska in 2011.

Meanwhile lawyer Nebojsa Perovic said that during the investigagtion and in court, “not a single piece of evidence was provided that [his client] Veljko Koricanin participated in the war”.

The former soldiers were initially convicted in 2014 and sentenced to a total of 106 years in jail, but the Serbian 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.

Closing arguments will continue on Friday.

03/04/2024 - 19:22

03 April 2024 - 19:22

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