CDHRF from the „burning“ of Albanians in Trepca in 1999, through to March 17th, to Fr. Sava as a „possible“ war criminal

Otac Sava Janjic
Otac Sava Janjic

The Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms in Kosovo (CDHRF) presented allegations that Albanians were held in the Visoki Decani monastery during the 1999 war on Sunday. The CDHRF requested an investigation, accusing Abbot Sava Janjic of „possible violations of the Law of War and Humanitarian Law“.

The CDHRF issued a statement, saying that „according to witnesses, in addition to the deployment of paramilitary formations and regular Serb forces, Albanians were held as hostages in the Decani monastery after the war.“

They also claimed that at that time, the Visoki Decani Monastery was turned into a military base „in which weapons were distributed to mobilized Serbs“.

This Council requested an investigation into the monastery and „possible involvement“ of Father Sava in the violation of the laws of war and humanitarian law.

„After this information from the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms (CDHRF), the abbot of this monastery, Sava Janjic reported the CDHRF to the OSCE, while the OSCE gave the CDHRF two possibilities to overcome this matter, the first being that the director of CDHRF, Behgjet Shala, publicly apologizes to father Sava and the other is for CDHRF to face the court.

The CDHRF did neither, but remains persistent in conducting an investigation into the Decani monastery and the possible involvement of Sava Janjic in violating the law on war and humanitarian law. It is evident that even against such a development, there were no consequences for the Decani Monastery, nor the staff,“ they said.

The abbot of Visoki Decani – who is being referred to as „the one who is denying the state of Kosovo’s institutions“ – was accused of „spreading lies and Serb propaganda in Kosovo, trying to hide his past from the war in which, according to the CDHRF, he was responsible for violating the human rights of detainees of the Decani monastery, before and during the last war in Kosovo.“

„In any state governed by the rule of law, an investigation would be launched against Sava Janjic because of his role before and during the war in Kosovo, against detained civilians in the Decani monastery, where he was also in charge,“ the statement added.

Until these „suspicions“ are investigated, the abbot of Decani will turn the monastery into a „Serbian embassy or propaganda center“ – they added.

„Sava Janjic has a guilty conscience from the past, so he is 100% in the service of Serb politics, harming inter-ethnic relations and Serbs, who are integrated or want to be integrated, in all spheres of life in Kosovo,“ the statement reads.

During the war in Kosovo and in the first post-war years, the Western press abounded with reports of the monastery as a shelter for Albanian civilians and a strong opponent of the Milosevic regime, with particular emphasis on the then Archangel Sava, today’s abbot.

The Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms thus joined the objections of Kosovo institutions and officials to the decision of the organization for the protection of Europe’s heritage – Europa Nostra, to include Visoki Decani on the list of the seven most endangered sites for 2021.

„Saying that Decani Monastery is endangered 21 years since the end of the war is meaningless, moreover – it was not endangered even during military activities. Sava Janjic, a clergyman clad in a democratic cloak, now complains that Albanians and Kosovo institutions threaten the Decani Monastery, do not implement international agreements or decisions of the Kosovo courts (Constitutional Court), while (Sava Janjic) does not recognize Kosovo institutions, the state of Kosovo, and recognizes court decisions in a selective manner,“ they added.

In line with the views expressed by Kosovo officials, CDHRF believes that, in addition to the monastery not being endangered by Albanians or Kosovo institutions, it also „enjoys extraterritorial status“ according to the Ahtisaari plan and current laws. They listed the same arguments that Kurti and Osmani had previously presented in their letter to Europa Nostra.

„In a word – it has full independence and protection, so it is abusing this with the aim of expanding Serbia’s influence in Kosovo by putting religion in the service of politics,“ they added.

They claim that the right to practice religion in Kosovo is regulated by the Law on Religious Freedoms, and that Kosovo is ahead of many in the region in this regard.

The CDHRF also said that there has been a „sudden decline“ of inter-ethnic incidents in recent years in Kosovo, adding that the claims of Abbot Sava Janjic and official Belgrade that Serbs in Kosovo are endangered, that SOC religious buildings are being looted and religious staff are being attacked are false.

Fr. Sava: „Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake“

 „Lies and insults“ – reads Janjic’s response to the accusations presented against him by the Pristina Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms.

 „Regarding lies and insults presented against me in some Kosovo media, I can only answer with the words of the Lord – Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven”(Mt 5:11-12),“ the abbot of the monastery Visoki Decani tweeted.

 Kosovo Office: An attempt to draw an additional target on Fr. Sava

 The Kosovo Office interpreted the accusations of the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms as „meaningless“, but „carefully thought out“ – in order to mask the real truth about the endangerment of the monastery, which has been under KFOR protection for 20 years.

The Office claims that a target is thus being drawn on the abbot of Decani, and the monastery itself is declared a legitimate target, because its spiritual and religious significance and role are disputed.

 They pointed to an avalanche of negative reactions in Pristina following Europa Nostra’s decision, noting that “Pristina’s attempts to relativize this factual and evidence-based situation continue.“

 „Neither Visoki Decani shelled themselves, nor did Father Hariton cut off his own head in 1999. That is why it is absurd to try to declare self-proclaimed Kosovo an oasis of multiculturalism and religious tolerance, when we have daily incidents on the ground about which the European Union and all relevant international institutions in Kosovo have been informed,“ the Kosovo Office stressed.

For more than two decades, the Kosovo Council on the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms has been known to the general public through its Mitrovica branch leader Halit Barani, and his reports in which Serbs were highlighted as criminals and Albanians as victims.

Following Barani’s news that Serbs burned Albanians in Trepca in 1999, the Wall Street Journal reporters investigated the story and revealed that Hague tribunal investigators had found no evidence there. OSCE and Human Rights Watch reports from 2004 highlighted the findings of investigations that are contrary to Berani’s allegations that „Serb bandits“ chased Albanian boys into the river. They also concluded that such inflammatory and sensationalist statements in the media sparked the ethnic violence of March 2004.

Albanian „Karl Marx“

In the spring of 1999, news appeared about the alleged burning of Albanians in the Trepca smelter.

In the famous WSJ article from 1999 – “Despite Tales, the War in Kosovo Was Savage, but Wasn’t Genocide,” Daniel Pearl and Robert Block say that “the world may owe that image to Halit Berani.”

“Mr. Berani is a former actor with a Karl Marx beard who summarizes Serb war crimes by showing a photo of a baby with a smashed skull,” the renowned US journalists wrote.

They describe Berani as a man who spent the war moving from village to village with his manual typewriter, calling in reports to foreign radio services and diplomats with his daily allotment of three minutes on a KLA satellite phone.

He said at the time that he heard from villagers near Trepca that trucks were rolling in full and rolling out empty, and that a strange smell was coming from the mine complex.

“He phoned in a report in early April suggesting that the mines had become a body-disposal site, and Deutsche Welle, a German-based radio service, carried the report in Albanian,” Pearl and Block wrote.

They noted that the story spread in June, when Kosova Press’s website quoted a U.S. embassy official in Athens as saying there are „witnesses and still photos“ of trucks carrying bodies. When Western journalists phoned the embassy, however, a spokeswoman said she couldn’t find the supposed source.

London’s Observer ran a similar story, citing a KLA commander, as well as several other people from Kosovo, the authors recall. A Pentagon spokesman, quizzed about Trepca at the time, said, „There have been several reports throughout the last 10 weeks of bodies being burned in former industrial sites in Kosovo.“ Some commentators stated the theory as fact.

When French troops took over the mines, they reported to the tribunal that they had found well-scrubbed vats and piles of clothing, however, tribunal investigators weren’t impressed, Pearl and Block underlined.

They explained that clothes are found everywhere in “trash-strewn Kosovo,” posing the question as to “why would the Serbs clean vats but not burn clothes?” After concluding that the search was “fruitless” because no bodies have been found, the investigation was suspended.

Mr. Berani doesn’t completely stand by his story – the authors emphasized.

„I told everybody it was supposition, it was not confirmed information,“ Berani told Pearl and Block, adding: „For the Serbs, everything is possible.“

Daniel Pearl, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in Asia, was abducted in 2002 in the Pakistani city of Karachi, while reporting on the British terrorist Richard Reid, after which he was killed.

Five years later, Halit Berani is also mentioned in reports by Human Rights Watch and the OSCE Office in Vienna on the occasion of the biggest ethnic violence in Kosovo since the 1999 war – March 17th.

The reports confirmed that the Albanian media presented inflammatory reports which preceded the violence – on the drowning of three ethnic Albanian boys in Cabra, a village near Mitrovica: the ethnic Albanian media played an irresponsible, inflammatory role, broadcasting information that was still unconfirmed: the surviving ethnic Albanian boy never publicly stated that the group were chased into the river by Serbs, only that the young Albanian boys had been sworn at by Serbs from a distant house.

In an investigation led by a respected ethnic Albanian judge from Kosovo, serious doubt was cast on the allegations of Serb complicity in the drownings, while the U.N. investigative team could not find any Serbs who fitted the description given by the surviving boy.

The interpretation that the boys were chased in the river by Serbs came from Halit Berani, the reports reveal.

The day before the violence, the reports also noted a disproportion in the airtime given to Halit Berani at the expense of „moderating voices,“ such as the UNMIK spokesperson from the Mitrovica region, American Tracy Becker, who tried for hours to calm down the situation in Cabra and deter journalists from publishing inflammatory and unconfirmed reports – unlike Berani who was in the same place.

Moderating voices, such as the UNMIK spokesperson Tracy Becker, who warned that an ethnic motivation for the incident had not been established, received almost no airtime, while „experts“ who denounced the Serb „bandits“ were given unfettered and unchallenged access. For example, Halit Berani, the chairman of the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms in Mitrovica-an ethnic Albanian human rights group with a strongly nationalist agenda-was given more than 4 minutes of the RTK news broadcast, compared to the 12 seconds given to the moderate UNMIK spokesperson. Berani, who had not witnessed the incident, told the audience:

 

“Today around 16:00 in the village of Cabre (Cabra in Serbian), Zubin Potok municipality, while six children from the above mentioned village were playing, a group of Serb bandits attacked these children, the Serb bandits also had a dog, and [were] swearing at their Albanian mothers, they forced the Albanian children to run away. Two of them managed to hide in the roots of the willow trees by the river Lumebardh (Ibar river in Serbian), whereas the other four fell into the river. It is known that the Lumebardh river, apart from being very deep, has very cold water and is fast-moving. Most probably, the children couldn’t swim well. There is no information about the fate of three of them, whereas one survived after making it to the other side of the river.

We are used to these Serb bandits. We think that it is in revenge for what happened in Caglavica [i.e. shooting of Serb], the case that showed what the Serbs are willing to do when the situation is getting calm in Kosova.”

“The sensational reporting on the Serb ‘bandits’ drowning young Albanian children set off a firestorm of protests and violence across Kosovo,” the Human Rights Watch report reads.

The OSCE Office in Vienna report analyzed in detail a live studio interview with Halit Berani, aired on RTK on March 16th. The report notes that while Mr. Berani is viewed as controversial by some international and local institutions, and he was not an eyewitness to the incident itself, but was invited as an “expert witness.”

In 2002, Berani was one of the first witnesses in the trial against Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague, and he also appeared as a witness at the trial of Oliver Ivanovic in 2015.

„Halit Berani, a professional Albanian witness who testified many times and always testified about what he did not witness himself, testified today. He did that even today, he clearly said that he was not a witness to the events from 1999 or 2000, but again he did not mind talking about it,“ Ivanovic’s lawyer Nebojsa Vlajic said after Berani’s testimony.

The Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms also shared another misinformation in October last year, when a Montenegrin couple got married in the church of Our Lady of Ljevis in Prizren, displaying an old Montenegrin flag to take a photo with it – which they did with the permission of the police officer on duty.

„Abuse of religious ceremonies and provocations with nationalist songs of Serbs who come to family celebrations and use the Serbian flag is a criminal offense and does not contribute to interethnic relations and building a future for all communities,“ reads part of the CDHRF reaction shared by the Kosovo media.

The police determined that there were no elements of a crime.

The following day, a group of „Arpagjik“ fans from Prizren chanted „Kosovo is the heart of Albania“ in front of the church and shared this video on social networks with a message saying that it comes as a reaction to yesterday’s „provocation“. Several Orthodox believers were praying in the church during the chanting.

The CDHRF recently demanded a boycott of Lajcak until he apologizes for the map – „political profiteer and extremely biased“

 Previously, the CDHRF announced during the visit of the European Envoy for the BG-PR Dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, that Kosovo politicians, civil society and the media, „should refuse any meeting with him until he apologizes publicly and distances himself.“ from a map in his office. The map in question triggered a harsh reaction from the Albanians due to it not showing a clearly defined border between Kosovo and Serbia.

 This Council described Lajcak as „completely biased, someone who seriously harms the talks process“.

 „Also, in any country where there is a high state-building consciousness, as well as human, political and national, Miroslav Lajcak would be greeted with strong protests in every country where he scheduled meetings. Ignoring the reality created in Kosovo, which Lajcak is trying to completely distort, creates a dangerous and discouraging precedent for building lasting peace in any country where there have been massive human rights violations and Kosovo has overcome all fears to allow a political profiteer, such as what Lajcak is doing, to hold such exhibitions.”


Read more:

Europa Nostra: Decani should not be a source of conflict, but a valuable link between citizens

Harsh reactions in the Kosovo media to Decani Monastery’s inclusion in the 7 Most Endangered 2021

Europa Nostra: Our goal is to serve as a catalyst for positive change and not to use the Decani monastery case for further political divisions

Kurti and Osmani in a letter to Europa Nostra before the final decision on Decani: Churches in Kosovo are not endangered

Fr. Sava: The paradox that the Church must remind Kosovo to respect its own laws and the constitution

Visoki Decani listed as one of the 7 Most Endangered Heritage Sites in Europe in 2021

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