Kosovo officials recall Mala Krusa victims, Kurti on the War Crimes Institute

Kurti Osmani Kruša
FOTO: Kabinet premijera Kosova

In the same week as the 22nd anniversary of the beginning of the NATO bombing, the anniversary of the murder of 114 Albanians in the village of Mala Krusa near Orahovac is also being marked in Kosovo. The entire week, the Kosovo media have been extensively reporting – as they do every year – about the events that took place at the end of March 1999 in the villages of Mala Krusa and Velika Krusa near Orahovac.

In the last three days, Kosovo officials visited the site where the inhabitants of Velika and Mala Krusa were murdered back in 1999.

The newly appointed Kosovo Prime Minister, Albin Kurti was the first to visit these villages on Friday. Kurti said that „Serb crimes in Kosovo and missing persons will be a priority issue in the negotiations with Serbia“. He also underlined that he would seek justice and accountability.

During the pre-election campaign, Kurti promised to open the War Crimes Institute – and now he has promised that his government will create conditions for the prosecution to be active, the judiciary efficient – in the trial and punishment of criminals.

„Justice is lacking and it is our obligation to maximally engage the future institute for crimes committed during the war and activate the Special Prosecutor’s Office, so that we can heal war wounds, revealing the fate of the missing and bringing justice,“ Kurti said in Krusa on Friday.

Kurti was accompanied by Vjosa Osmani, who has insistently and publicly been linking the words genocide and Serbia for years now.

Osmani stressed that Serbia had committed a „double genocide“.

„Covering up a crime is a crime in itself. By not allowing the opening of mass graves, denying crimes, genocide, not apologizing, and not bringing the perpetrators to justice, Serbia is committing this double crime,“ Osmani pointed out.

Commenting on the events which took place 22 years ago, the Chairman of the Assembly of Kosovo, Glauk Konjufca, said that „three wounds remain open – the massacre that took place, empty graves and a reminder that Serbia kidnapped our loved ones and never returned them, and the third wound is lack of justice.“

Other political representatives in Kosovo also paid a visit to these villages in Rahovec/ Orahovac in the past few days, who have underlined that this village is „the foundation of Kosovo’s freedom and independence“, „the epicenter of the sacrifice“, an indicator of „how long, difficult and high our price for freedom was“.

Darko Tasic was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the crime in Mala Krusa last June. The Court of Appeals in Pristina, however, reduced his prison sentence to 11 years in December of the same year.

Tasic was found guilty by the Basic Court in Prizren on two counts – desecration, burning and throwing the bodies of unidentified persons into the Drim River and confiscation of property, robbery, illegal and intentional destruction of property (arson) in Mala Krusa.
A year earlier, on the other hand, Milos Petkovic was acquitted of charges for war crimes against the civilian population in this village, RTV Mir reported at the time.

Petkovic was arrested in Hungary on September 6th, 2018, as per an international arrest warrant issued by EULEX. He was detained in Hungary, where he remained until May 17th, 2019, when he was extradited to the Kosovo judicial authorities. Before his acquittal, Petkovic was detained in a special prison in Podujevo.

According to the Humanitarian Law Center data, a total of 114 Albanian men were killed in Mala Krusa on March 25th and March 26th, 1999.

On March 25th, Serb forces launched an offensive against the „KLA“ in the villages between Prizren and Orahovac (Bela Crkva, Celina, Velika Krusa, Mala Krusa).

It is assumed that approximately 12 people were killed in several places in this village on the first day of the offensive.

The very next day, according to the HLC, „Serb police officers accompanied by local Serbs separated more than 100 men from women in the area and led them into a house in the village where they killed them using automatic weapons.“ The house was then burned and mined.

The remains of 85 residents of Mala Krusa have never been found and their names are on the ICRC’s list of missing persons. „It is assumed that the remains of the burned bodies were collected by an excavator and thrown into the Beli Drim River,“ the Humanitarian Law Center added.

The body parts of 17 locals killed in one of the houses or individual incidents in the village were exhumed – and later identified, in the village and on the banks of the Beli Drim River in July 1999 by a British forensic team within KFOR.

The events in Mala Krusa were part of a war crimes indictment against Slobodan Milosevic and several other Serb political and military leaders.

The Special Court and Serbian judiciary processed crimes that took place in Kosovo in 1999 in which approximately 200 Albanians were killed, the Humanitarian Law Center revealed two years ago.

The HLC pointed out that mostly lower-ranking members of armed formations were prosecuted, while, with the exception of a few, there is a noticeable lack of prosecution of high-ranking officers in whose regions such crimes took place.

The Humanitarian Law Center also stated at the time that the cases with the largest number of victims, one of them being Mala and Velika Krusa, had not been processed.

One of the points of the Washington Agreement, as well as the new phase of negotiations in Brussels, which was launched last summer, is related to the issue of resolving the fate of missing persons. The chapter of the future comprehensive agreement on the normalization of relations on the missing has already been concluded, the EU envoy for the talks between Belgrade and Pristina, Miroslav Lajcak confirmed. Since then, the topic of the missing has been brought to the fore, including the excavations which were, according to the information available to the public so far, carried out in Kizevak site near Raska, at the Muslim cemetery in North Mitrovica, Orahovac, and Prizren region.

The identification process of – as it is presumed – 16 sets of remains found last year at ten locations as part of the search for missing persons from Kosovo is underway. Apart from the site in Kizevak, the remains from the other nine locations were exhumed on the territory of Kosovo, the chairman of the Kosovo government’s Commission on Missing Persons, Rame Manaj, recently confirmed for KoSSev. The samples were sent for DNA analysis to the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) immediately after the exhumation, but no answers have arrived so far.

The majority of the Serbian public is not familiar with the events in Velika and Mala Krusa. It has been a long-standing practice on both sides to report almost exclusively on the crimes committed by the opposing side. Also, as the YIHR and RECOM had previously alerted to, the data on the number of victims is often manipulated by official institutions and officials. When it comes to the crime in Mala Krisa, the Pristina media often present different figures.

The YIHR wrote in a statement yesterday that the way Kosovo and Serbia have been reporting this week on the number of victims of the bombing is an example of data manipulation. The initiative called on officials and the public to use the list of all victims made by the Humanitarian Law Center.

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