Staro Gracko: There will not be justice for the victims and the kidnapped until the perpetrators are found

FOTO: RTV Kim/Milanka Cvejić ispred spomen ploče
FOTO: RTV Kim/Milanka Cvejić ispred spomen ploče

Today marks the 22nd anniversary since 14 Serb farmers were killed in the village of Staro Gracko near Lipljan following the arrival of KFOR in Kosovo. Like every year, a memorial service for the murdered farmers was held today in Staro Gracko.

The memorial service was held in front of the memorial plaque in the center of Staro Gracko. It was served by the Bishop of Raska and Prizren, Teodosije, and attended by the Head of the Kosovo Office, Petar Petkovic, who is on a two-day tour of Kosovo.

„We gathered today at this place of suffering, in the village which testifies to our suffering, but also our survival and perseverance, in our holy Kosovo and Metohija. Innocent victims, residents of this village, farmers, workers laid down their lives and suffered at the hands of criminals, executioners, those with no links to God, justice, truth, who decide to mete out justice and commit an unmentionable crime,“ Bishop Teodosije said, RTV KiM reported, and who also spoke on the spot to the families of the victims.

Twenty-two years ago, Slavica Popovic lost a brother, father, and two uncles. Along with the family members of the other victims, Slavica is waiting for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

„Hope is not dead and it never will be. I hope that after 22 years, I will receive the news that the perpetrators have been found and arrested. The only hope lies in KFOR and EULEX, if they confirm and show who the perpetrators are. They have that information, but until they share it – there is no justice for the victims and the kidnapped. Living without a brother for 22 years is difficult, but I will not stop fighting. EULEX has suspended the investigation. I don’t know what will happen next. I am confused and I don’t know where to start. I place my hope in the state of Serbia and I hope that they will continue to fight and find the perpetrators,“ Popovic told RTV KiM.

Milanka Cvejic (83) lost her son and all hope that justice will be served.

„It will never happen, it did not happen so far and it will not happen in the future. At best, the killers will be found in the next 22 years. My son was killed, he was 25 years old. I was left with my sick daughter, I hoped that my son would take care of her. The pain is getting stronger and stronger. I cry at home when my daughter is not there,“ said Milanka.

The head of the Kosovo Office, Petar Petkovic, said that even 22 years later, the harvest continues and it will continue until all those who committed this crime are brought to justice.

„The statute of limitations on war crimes will not expire as long as we breathe, which means that the state of Serbia will insist and demand that the perpetrators of this massacre be brought to justice until the end of time. Twenty-two years have passed and not a single perpetrator has been found. EULEX shamefully suspended the investigation, allegedly there is no evidence, and there is evidence. We still don’t know who committed the crime against the Serb people,“ he said, KiM reports.

On murder and investigation

On July 23rd, 1999, in Staro Gracko, fourteen Serbs were killed at close range – Milovan Jovanovic (1969), Jovica Zivic (1970), Radovan Zivic (1967), Andrija Odalovic (1967), Slobodan Janicevic (1965) ), Mile Janicijevic (1957), Novica Janicijevic (1981), Momcilo Janicijevic (1946), Stanimir Dekic (1955), Bozidar Dekic (1947), Sasa Cvejic (1973), Ljubisa Cvejic (1939), Nikola Stojanović (1936) and Miodrag Tepsic (1951).

At first, the investigation was carried out by British KFOR units, but the case was then handed over to UNMIK. For years it was speculated that UNMIK never processed the case, despite the detailed investigation by the British soldiers.

The case was never solved, although one of the suspects, Muzlam Bitici, from the village of Veliki Alas near Lipljan, was arrested in 2007. He was released from custody after two months due to lack of evidence.

In May 2017, the Special Prosecutor’s Office of Kosovo suspended the investigation against seven suspects due to the „lack of evidence“.

The crime in Staro Gracko falls under the mandate of the Special Court for War Crimes in Kosovo.

Three days before the 17th anniversary of the killings, the former Kosovo President, Hashim Thaci, visited the monument to the murdered Serbs and paid his respects. He was the first Albanian official to do so. The families of the Serbs killed in 1999, however, refused to welcome Thaci, stating that he, by laying a wreath, laughed in the faces of the families of the victims and everyone involved in the investigation of crimes against Serbs. Thaci’s move was criticized by the Kosovo opposition, whose representatives claimed that he thus admitted that „Albanians are terrorists“.

RECOM: The perpetrators remain unpunished

On the eve of the anniversary, RECOM stated that the names of fourteen farmers are inscribed in the Kosovo Book of Remembrance.

„At around 8pm, their families found machines and tractors in a field with harvested wheat, and the body of Slobodan Janicijevic 150 meters away. With British soldiers, in another field, they found the bodies of other farmers. They were all gunned down. Neither UNMIK, nor EULEX, nor the Kosovo War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office have punished the perpetrators of this war crime,“ RECOM said.

 

Serb Coordination: There is a culture of impunity for crimes against Serbs in Kosovo

On the eve of the anniversary, the Coordination of Serbian Family Associations of the Missing, Killed and Perished in the conflicts in Former Yugoslavia reminded of the crimes in Staro Gracko.

„On July 23rd, 1999, in the days of lawlessness and systemic violence against Serbs, which took place after the adoption of UNSCR Resolution 1244, despite the presence of tens of thousands of members of the international military and civilian mission in Kosovo, Albanian criminals – members of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army shot at and then massacred 14 Serbs – residents of the village of Staro Gracko – in a field,“ reads the Coordination’s statement published by Sputnik.

They alleged that the victims were „guilty“ only of being of Serb ethnicity and gathering their harvest.

Moreover, they assessed that there is a lack of respect for the basic human rights of Serbs and a „culture“ of impunity for crimes against Serbs on the territory of Kosovo.

„No one was held responsible for this crime or numerous other crimes, which were committed against Serbs in an organized and systematic manner by members of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army.“

They also said that „Albanian criminals and extremists, encouraged by the impunity of crimes against Serbs and driven by hatred and inhumanity“, desecrated and mined the local cemetery where the killed Serb farmers were buried, as well as a memorial plaque with the names of the victims.

„Recalling this crime, the Serbian Coordination points to the historic failure of UNMIK, KFOR, EULEX and the self-proclaimed authorities in Pristina on building a society in Kosovo with basic rule of law and respect for basic human rights of Serbs,“ they underlined, Sputnik reports.

Kosovo officials have not reacted so far. For years now, the two sides have solely marked and reminded of the anniversaries of the suffering of their own peoples.

Less than 150 Serbs currently live in Staro Gracko. Before the war, more than 500 Serbs lived there.

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