OF MASS GRAVES IN KOSOVO AND METOHIJA
Gracanica, August 30, 2002
Two weeks ago Dr. Rada Trajkovic, the head of the Return (Povratak) Coalition caucus in the Kosovo and Metohija Parliament, first informed the public of news that a previously unknown mass grave which may contain bodies of Serbs murdered by Albanian extremists during or after the war is located not far from the Balkan Company in Suva Reka. UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel reacted immediately to this statement, saying that UNMIK has no information regarding new mass graves in Suva Reka and that no mass graves containing the bodies of murdered Serbs had been found.
One or two mass graves in Suva Reka
Perhaps the whole story would have ended with the denial of the UNMIK spokeswoman if, during an August 26 meeting with Jean Cady, the representative of the UNMIK Missing People Unit, and UNMIK deputy chief Charles Brayshaw, Dr. Trajkovic had not learned from Mr. Cady of the existence of a cemetery near Suva Reka containing a large number of unidentified bodies which had already been autopsied and the clothing from which was currently being analyzed. Dr. Trajkovic understood this as confirmation of her previous claim; however, the next day UNMIK issued a formal communiqué that Mr. Cady was referring to the official UNMIK/ICTY cemetery containing a number of exhumed unidentified bodies previously autopsied by ICTY forensic experts during the year 2000.
Whether there are really two cemeteries remains unclear to this day but what it certain is that Serbian forensic experts were not permitted to participate in the exhumations and autopsies conducted by UNMIK and Hague tribunal teams during the course of 1999 and 2000. Susan Manuel nevertheless stated that the Yugoslav and Serbian Government Coordinating Center for Kosovo and Metohija received detailed information regarding these UNMIK/ICTY cemeteries for unidentified persons and that representatives of the Coordinating Center and the Serbian media had already visited these sites on August 8, 2001.
UNMIK police investigating site in Suva Reka
In the meanwhile on August 27 Beta News Agency published the news that a special team of UNMIK police tasked with locating and discovering mass graves in Kosovo had determined a site in Suva Reka near the BALKAN Company where the bodies of more unidentified persons could be buried, among which some could be supposed to be those of murdered Serbs and other non-Albanians. Serb sources close to the UNMIK authorities in Kosovo told Beta there are no visible signs of the existence of a mass grave in the area of the Balkan Company; however, this is a land parcel overgrown with weeds which UNMIK forensic experts will investigate in detail. UNMIK forensic experts visited the site where Serb officials from Kosovo claim there exists another undiscovered mass grave at the request of the Belgrade government, said Beta's source, stating that the investigation of the site in Suva Reka will also include pathologists from Belgrade.
Shortly thereafter, the Coordinating Center issued a public statement that Dr. Nebojsa Covic would hold a special meeting with the UNMIK head regarding mass graves in the Province and the possibility of more extensive participation by Serbian forensics experts in the autopsy of the discovered bodies.
Cemetery with unidentified bodies
On August 26, 2002 UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel personally informed the Information Service of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren that near Suva Reka there is an official UNMIK/ICTY authorized burial site where 143 unidentified persons and 133 body parts were buried after exhumation and autopsy during 2000/2001. The bodies were buried in separate graves while the body parts were grouped in several bags in one coffin. Above each grave there is a metal plate with a number corresponding to autopsy results, while other metal plates bear the names of the municipalities where the bodies were originally found (see photo).
According to Manuel all documentation regarding the bodies of the unidentified persons is kept by UNMIK's Missing People Unit which continues to investigate mass graves and conduct autopsies.
Immediately following the end of the war and the deployment of the UN mission and KFOR, unidentified bodies were found on a daily basis throughout Kosovo and Metohija not only of persons killed during the war but also those killed immediately following it, primarily by the rampaging KLA squadrons. Because of the impossibility of immediately conducting autopsies and identification, many bodies were buried at certain sites with the intent of later exhuming them and initiating a process for their identification. Some of the bodies suspected of being those of Serbs were also buried at Dragodan Cemetery in Pristina in immediate proximity to or in the Orthodox cemetery. This is where the Serbian forensic team of Prof. Dobricanin has already conducted, according to Manuel, 32 exhumations since April 2002, resulting in the several positive identifications of the discovered bodies. However, it remains unclear whether Serbian forensic experts participated in the investigation of bodies which are located at the official UNMIK/ICTY cemetery in Suva Reka and whether existing documentation was shared with the Serbian pathologists. Based on the statements of the Coordinating Center, one does not get the impression this is the case; however, Susan Manuel claims that Prof. Dobricanin is presently participating in the autopsy of a body from the cemetery (or mass grave site) in Suva Reka.
In any case many unknown factors remain in this case. The interest of the Serb public in this issue remains great due to the more than 1,300 missing persons whose fate remains unknown and who are seriously suspected to have been liquidated by Albanian extremists and their bodies secretly buried. Among Kosovo and Metohija Serbs there still exists a strong suspicion that UNMIK is trying to hide the truth about the post-war murders of Serbs because these crimes occurred during the international UN protectorate and in the presence of NATO forces. International factors reject this opinion as tendentious and explain the poor results to date in the investigation of these crimes as being due to bureaucracy and lack of evidence.
Murders without timely police investigation
In addition to the fact that there have been many omissions and lack of coordination during the process of identifying the unidentified bodies, it also remains unclear whether after the war UNMIK police conducted investigations at all upon finding bodies of people, largely non-Albanians, who had been murdered. The lack of a timely response of international officials is best demonstrated by the case of Father Chariton (Lukic) of Holy Archangels Monastery near Prizren, who was kidnapped by persons wearing KLA uniforms in June 1999. Despite numerous appeals to UNMIK to conduct an investigation, it was not until the spring of 2001 that police investigators opened one, more than six months after Hague forensic experts located the decapitated body of 37 year-old Father Chariton near Prizren and identified him. However, the investigation soon ground to a halt for lack of evidence. The German photo reporter working for the magazine "Focus" who had filmed the abduction finally told investigators in Germany that the photographs had "turned out badly" and that the film was destroyed while he had "already completely forgotten" the entire incident. It is completely justified to ask whether such inexcusable behavior on the part of the international mission with respect to numerous crimes was understood as a "green light" by the Albanian extremists to carry out their bloodbath.
Is there a new mass grave near Istok?
Another case of a missing monk again caused a great stir among Church representatives in Kosovo and Metohija. Father Stefan (Puric) and another Serb man, M. Vujovic (a teacher), were abducted in August 1999 by members of the KLA not far from the village of Budisavci (nr. Klina), where Father Stefan served at the monastery which belongs to the Pec Patriarchate. No reliable information about Father Stefan was ever heard though unofficial sources claimed that he was taken to Istok and tortured and humiliated before a crowd of Albanians there. After that, according to the same sources, Father Stefan and a small group of imprisoned Serb civilians were murdered and tossed into an empty well, followed by dead livestock from the nearby Dubrava Farm and later the whole well was sealed with cement.
A week ago the Diocese of Raska and Prizren received a photograph showing the unsealing of a well in the village of Tomance, not far from Istok, where according to sources close to the UNMIK investigating team six bodies were found, most probably belonging to Serbs (see photo). It is interesting that this investigation and the discovery of the unidentified bodies took place not more than three weeks ago although the official UNMIK communiqué from August 27 openly states that no new mass graves have been found in Kosovo and Metohija during the past several months.
This was a further reason for the Diocese to request an explanation from UNMIK; however, none has been forthcoming to date and consequently a justified suspicion exists that there could be other sites containing unidentified bodies about which neither the general public nor officials of the Republic of Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were not informed.
Mass graves reveal new truths about war and peace in Kosovo and Metohija
It is the hope of the Serbian Orthodox Church that after these most recent developments Serbian investigators and forensics experts will be given the opportunity to join in the process of identifying the discovered bodies and that the process of investigating the fate of Serbs abducted by members of the KLA will be intensified. Recently we have been witness to the arrest of certain senior representatives of the former KLA (who in the meanwhile have become high-ranking officers of the UN sponsored KPC - Kosovo Protection Corps) for crimes committed against their compatriots, the Kosovo Albanians. Even though it is well-known that some of these individuals also participated in the liquidation of Kosovo Serb civilians, these crimes are not even mentioned in the indictments. The general public still does not know how many Kosovo Albanians were killed by the ethnic Albanians themselves because previously every Albanian victim was automatically attributed to the Serbian police (MUP) or the Yugoslav Army (VJ).
Considering the large number of inconsistencies with regard to the discovery of missing persons and the identification of recovered bodies, the question which increasingly poses itself is why after all the fanfare with respect to the exhumation of purported "tens of thousands" of murdered Albanians, international investigators have suddenly lost their enthusiasm and the issue of unidentified and missing bodies has suddenly found itself buried deep in the vaults of UNMIK, whose representatives speak on this subject very rarely in public. One thing is certain and that is that without a transparent process in which the general public will receive timely notification there can be no uncovering of the real truth regarding the conflict in Kosovo and Metohija, which was and remains far more complex that initially represented in the international press.