The Promise of Justice : Burning the Evidence  

A Signal Date | The Investigator | "Civilians were the Priority" | Code Name: Nicholas | Milosevic's Order

"Civilians Were the Priority"

For this report, American RadioWorks met with more than 10 men who took part in removing bodies of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. All of them are ethnic Serbs, and veterans of the Kosovo campaign. Six of the men directly participated in the actions as security escorts, drivers or logistical support. Several men showed photographs of bodies they said had been pulled from graves and stacked near trucks or at industrial facilities. These pictures looked authentic but could not be independently verified.

One of the men interviewed says he was a field commander in a secret police unit sent to Kosovo in 1998 to quash an insurgency by ethnic Albanian guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Like all of the men, Dusan (a pseudonym) agreed to tell his story to American RadioWorks and to provide written testimony on the condition that his real name and identity remain secret. Dusan met American RadioWorks reporters in the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, where he has been living since the end of the Kosovo war. He says he was directly involved in the shipment of 12 trucks that carried a total of around 300 bodies from grave and massacre sites in Kosovo.

"Women, children, and civilians were the priority," Dusan says. "The operation was to remove only civilian bodies. Most of them were burned to conceal crimes ... in smelting plants, in crematoriums, in a steel plant, or they were buried in remote places and near military and police bases."

In addition to mass graves, Dusan says he delivered bodies to industrial complexes in Serbia where they could be burned in furnaces. These sites included the copper smelting facility at Bor, a mountainous area in the east of Serbia and a huge steel plant in Smederevo, a city on the Danube downriver from Belgrade. Dusan says he also delivered bodies to the Trepca lead refinery in Kosovo.

In February 2001 an American RadioWorks investigation exposed a massive effort by Serbian forces to destroy evidence of war crimes in Kosovo. As part of the cover-up, six Serbian fighters told American RadioWorks how they burned the bodies of hundreds of ethnic Albanians in the blast furnace of the lead refinery at the Trepca industrial complex (located in Zvecan, near Mitrovica). The fighters detailed how the operation was conducted at Trepca and described the unusual lengths they went to destroy all traces of the bodies. Soon after the air war, French investigators searched the Trepca mines (located about 10 miles from the industrial complex) amid reports that Serbian forces dumped hundreds of bodies down the mineshafts. The investigators found no bodies. At about the same time, a separate team of investigators from the U.N. war crimes tribunal (ICTY) inspected the Trepca industrial complex and lead refinery, but as of June 2001 the ICTY had conducted no forensic tests at the site, according to an ICTY investigator. An ICTY spokesman described the American RadioWorks report as "plausible" but difficult to confirm. A spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Kosovo, Claire Trevena, says the OSCE "can't say yes or no to whether or not there was burning of bodies" at the Trepca industrial complex.

Dusan says he hauled bodies to Trepca and locations outside Kosovo in refrigerator and tractor-trailer trucks under secret police escort to conceal the operation from ordinary Serbs. "The trucks were always under security escort, maybe two, three jeeps," he says. "Sometimes the trucks would have Red Cross signs. It was coordinated in such a way by the security service that we never got stopped. No one would dare."

A reservist in the same secret police unit, a man who asked to be called Petar, says he escorted trucks to a mass grave near Belgrade and to two other sites in western Serbia. Petar says many of the victims were collected directly from villages near the Kosovo towns of Suva Reka and Prizren. Petar describes how the bodies were then unloaded:

"The ground was already prepared. The truck backed up close to the pit and the bodies were dumped in. We would then burn them and close the pit with dynamite. These people were civilians, [but they were] stubborn people who refused to leave their homes after we ordered them out."

American RadioWorks verified many details provided by Dusan, Petar, and other former fighters and secret police operatives with Serbian and western war crimes investigators. For example, the location of secret facilities used by the security forces, the sources for some of the trucks, and dates when bodies were believed to have been removed-this information corresponds with details gathered by investigators.

Serbian investigators say they still cannot confirm reports that bodies were incinerated. But western government officials who spoke off the record say they have strong evidence that industrial facilities were used. These sources say some of this evidence came from secret communications with Serbian informants during the 1999 NATO air war. According to the same western government sources, the Serbian informants told officials from NATO governments, including the United States, that bodies of ethnic Albanians were being trucked to industrial sites in Serbia, including the Bor copper smelter.

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