A Signal Date
Ever since the conquest of the Balkans by the Ottoman imperial army 600 years ago, June 28 has been a signal date in Serbian history, solemnly commemorating patriotism and tragedy. The date marks the legendary Serbian defeat at a place in Kosovo called The Field of Blackbirds, a defining moment for the Serbian nation.
June 28, 2001 was no different.
Bowing to international pressureand promises of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and creditsSerbian authorities sent the country's former ruler, Slobodan Milosevic, on a secret journey that ended in a jail cell at the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. Milosevic was charged with crimes against humanity for killings and expulsions of ethnic Albanians during the war in Kosovo; he now faces a separate indictment for war crimes during the 1991-92 conflict in Croatia.
As a military aircraft was flying Slobodan Milosevic to Holland, Serbian state television broadcast shocking images that exposed one of Milosevic's top secret wartime operations. The program broadcast raw footage of workers unearthing a mass grave on the outskirts of Belgrade. In the report a Serbian pathologist described the discovery of charred remains of some 40 people, including two young children. For many Serbs, the unusually frank broadcast signaled an end to the 13-year Milosevic era, a period in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed and deported in brutal warfare.
After more than four months of excavations, Serbian officials now say they have located at least seven mass graves and some 430 bodies in Serbia outside of Kosovo province. Those sites include graves at Batajnica near Belgrade, at Petrovo Selo in eastern Serbia and near Perucac Dam in western Serbia. Serbian police and western war crimes investigators believe most of the victims are ethnic Albanian civilians - including women and children - killed and shipped out of Kosovo in refrigerator trucks. Many were shot at close range.
Next: The Investigator