Belgrade Higher Court. Photo: BIRN.
Witness Ali Nikci told Belgrade Higher Court on Friday how his brother and sister-in-law were killed in an attack on the villages of Cuska/Qushk, Pavlan and Zahaq on May 14, 1999, during the Kosovo war.
“On May 14, people from Pavlan told us that they [Serb fighters] had entered [the village]; we could hear shooting,” Nikci told the court.
He said that the Serb forces rounded up villagers and took them to a place near the cemetery in the village of Zahaq, where they robbed them of money and valuables.
Then they ordered the locals who had tractors or other vehicles to get them, because “we are going on a trip”. The Serbian forces wore military and police uniforms, the witness said.
Nikci testified that the Serb forces first made the locals drive towards Pec/Peja, but after a while ordered them back to Cuska/Qushk. The ethnic Albanians then drove in the direction of the northeast Montenegrin town of Rozaje, but on the way there the Serbian police turned them back.
Nikci says he spent the night in his village, and learned the next day that his brother and his brother’s wife had been murdered.
“They were killed in their home and burned there,” Nikci said.
According to the prosecution, Serbian forces entered Cuska/Qushk and the neighbouring villages of Pavlan and Zahaq on May 14, killing a total of 138 ethnic Albanians.
The Serbian prosecutor has charged 11 former members of the 177th Yugoslav Army Unit with committing war crimes in the villages of Cuska/Qushk, Pavljan, Zahac and Ljubenic in spring 1999.
The group was initially convicted in 2014 and sentenced to 106 years in jail, but the Serbian appeals court reversed the verdict in 2015 and sent the case for a retrial.
The trial is considered to be one of the largest ever cases relating to Kosovo war crimes in the Belgrade courts.
But from its outset, it has been marked by delays and the refusal of witnesses to come to Belgrade to testify.
The next hearing in the trial is scheduled for May 17.
In 2014, the Serbian war crimes prosecution also launched an investigation into general Dragan Zivanovic, former commander of the Yugoslav Army’s 125th Brigade, for allegedly doing nothing to prevent the crimes in the four villages, but the probe was shut down.
BIRN reported on the crimes in the documentary film ‘The Unidentified’ which also uncovered the command structure of the police and army units involved in the violence.