The „Ćuška“ case verdicts to be announced at the end of the month

The closing arguments in the Ćuška case, as per which several individuals are charged with the murder of over 100 civilians of Albanian ethnicity, wounding, theft, and expulsion of the civilian population to Albania in 1999, were presented on Friday in the War Crimes Department of the Higher Court in Belgrade. Out of a total of 18 defendants, verdicts will be pronounced for nine of them.

The case actually encompasses the once separate proceedings led against Toplica Miladinović and eight other members of the paramilitary formation „Jackals“, which were then merged into one case.

„Due to the merger of the proceedings, the closing arguments presented on April 3 and April 5, during which the accused Miladinović was not present, were repeated, whereby the public prosecutor for war crimes, the injured party’s attorney and the defense attorneys of the accused abided by the previously presented closing arguments,“ stated the Humanitarian Law Center.

Miladinović’s defense attorney, Goran Petronijević, gave his closing speech on January 23, 2014.

He said that he stands by this statement, while also indicating:

„That it is unacceptable that the KLA is referred to as an armed military formation in the indictment because it is a terrorist organization, and that it is listed as such in numerous final verdicts passed by domestic courts.“

Petronijević added that „the various commissions preparing to sue Serbia for the genocide in Kosovo need a verdict like this.“

„The defendant Miladinović is needed by those who wrote the indictment at the time, namely the Humanitarian Law Center, which was not interested in the victims, but to link the military and state leadership in these crimes, so that was the only reason why he was indicted,“ claims Petronijević.

He also said that the HLC „managed to impose its interest on the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office“:

„Which bases its accusations on the statements of two extremely compromised witnesses who were once protected – Zoran Rašković and Zoran Obradović, who, in addition to Nebojša Minić, who is without an equal, are the biggest criminals.“

This lawyer also claims that the description of the action his client is accused of is untenable:

„The very description of the action for which the defendant Miladinović is accused, that he allegedly issued an order to Minić, namely to the Intervention Platoon, is untenable, because the Intervention Platoon as a formation did not even exist in the composition of the 177th Squad Peć. Minić was not an officer even in the command structure of this platoon, but a self-proclaimed commander.“

At the same time, the lawyer claimed that the accused described how the Intervention Platoon was created, that is, that they allegedly met in a tavern in Peć where they picked Minić to be their commander.

„It is extremely unrealistic and unbelievable that the accused Miladinović issued an order to Minić, who is now allegedly deceased, which no one heard, which is nowhere in the Squad documents, and that Minić conveyed such an alleged order orally only to the witnesses Rašković and Obradović and to no one else,“ added Petronijević.

He also claims that the only action of the 177th Peć Squad in Ćuška was held on April 17, 1999, and there are documents on it. The action, according to the lawyer, „was carried out in such a way that none of the locals had any objections to it, and no one was killed.“

„During the event in Ljubenić, the accused Miladinović was in a completely different location. The only material evidence offered by the prosecution is some kind of alleged copy of the war diary of the Peć Military Division, which included the 177th Squad, although it has not been determined on the basis of which document such a copy was made,“ adds Petronijević.

He declared that there is no evidence that his client committed the crime he was charged with, proposing to the court to release him from criminal responsibility.

According to the HLC, all the defendants stated in their closing statements that they fully accept the closing statements of their defense attorneys and that they did not commit the criminal offense for which they are charged.

About the Ćuska case

The accused Toplica Miladinović and eight other members of the 177th Squad Peć and the active and reserve police force are accused of having, on April 1, 1999, in the villages of Ljubenic, Pavljan and Zahać, and on May 14 in the villages of Ćuška, Pavljan, Zahać, allegedly killed more than 100 civilians of Albanian ethnicity and wounded dozens more, took their money, gold, motor vehicles, burned houses and expelled the civilian population to Albania.

Eleven years after this crime – in 2010, the Prosecutor’s Office for War Crimes in Serbia filed an indictment for the murder of 44 civilians, expulsion of more than 400 people, looting and destruction of property in the village of Ćuška.

The trial began a year later with four individual indictments for the same crime. Then, in 2012, a fifth indictment was filed for the same crime against the fifth defendant.

The indictment was expanded because it included crimes in the villages of Ljubinić, Pavljan and Zahać for the murder of at least 75 civilians, expulsion, looting and destruction of property.

At the same time, the joint indictment was amended, and the 2012 indictment included 13 defendants. The criminal prosecution of one person was canceled, and a year later, the proceedings led against another individual were also discarded.

In 2013, an agreement on testimony was reached with one defendant, and the indictment had been expanded and edited three times by then.

The initial first-instance verdict was passed in 2014, as per which 9 people were convicted and two were acquitted.

After that, a new indictment was filed for Ljubenić with three defendants. The second-instance verdict was handed down in 2015, when the case was sent back for a retrial, which started the same year, when the Ljubenić case was merged with the first case.
Since then, until 2023, three defendants have died, and two have become legally incompetent.

Several documentaries were filmed about the events around Peć in 1999, in which one of the former members of the Jackals, Zoran Rašković, spoke about the events. Rašković was a very young man at the time and when the war in Kosovo began, he enlisted in the army as a volunteer to, as he testified many times, defend his country.

In his testimony, he mentioned the moment when Nebojša Minić „Mrtvi“ appeared in these formations, about whom not much was known at the time, but who acted as the main player on the field and to whom Radosavljević was assigned as an assistant.

In one of the films, several other interlocutors also shared their testimonies, including a regular member of the army who carried out orders, that concerned the defense of the country, but who is suspected of a war crime, although the chain of command above him was let off scot-free – according to the film.

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