The Massacre | The Investigation | Bloody History | Putting Names to Faces | Lightning Strikes
From Prison to War
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Putting Names to Faces

It is unusual to discover the names and faces of men who commit atrocities in war time. It is even more extraordinary to hear the perpetrators tell their stories, except on the rare occasions they are caught and tried in court. Throughout ten years of war in the former Yugoslavia, there has been a virtual taboo for soldiers to speak candidly about killing, whether the targets are enemy troops or civilians. This is especially true of Serb fighters, who often see themselves as victims, and therefore justify their actions as a collective defense of the nation.

American RadioWorks obtained dozens of snapshots the Serbian fighters took of themselves and apparently left behind. Some showed groups of fighters posing as if in hunting parties, smiling darkly and holding captured Albanian flags. When we show the photographs to villagers, another man stands out in addition to Burdush.

An Albanian woman named Albana points to the man in the photograph, saying she saw him in Cuska, wearing combat fatigues. The man's face is easy to recognize in the photos because one eye drifts sharply off course from the other. Albana says his name is Zvonko Cvetkovic.

"I saw Zvonko's face" she recalls from May 14, "It was only for a few moments. And then in the blink of an eye, they took our men away and started burning houses." Albana says she grew up with Cvetkovic in the same neighborhood in nearby Pec. She says she saw Cvetkovic in the village twice in the month before the massacre, also with Serbian security forces. "He recognized me and asked what I was doing here. I said 'I live here now.' He asked how many children I had. I was afraid to tell him I have a son, so I told him I have five daughters. He then asked if the KLA was in Cuska. I said no."

Two other villagers identify photos of Zvonko Cvetkovic, saying he was in Cuska, in combat gear, on May 14 . They knew him because Cvetkovic was a vehicle inspector in Pec, where Albanians said they had to bribe him to get inspection papers for their cars.


The abandoned and looted state-run truck depot where American RadioWorks found personnel files and photos of alleged militia member Zvonko Cvetkovic.

(Photo: Stephen Smith)

To find out more, we went to the state-run truck depot where Cvetkovic worked. It is now abandoned and thoroughly looted, except for a file cabinet holding employee records. Here we found Zvonko Cvetkovic's personnel dossier. The documents say he was born in 1953, got mediocre grades in school, and had a bad eye because of a work accident. There are records indicating Cvetkovic was reprimanded for embezzling company funds. But in spite of Cvetkovic's apparent corruption, there's no evidence that he might have been a militia commander or police reservist.

So, we decide to find Zvonko Cvetkovic.

Many Serbs fled Kosovo during and after the NATO air war for relative safety in neighboring Montenegro, a Yugoslav republic that is only an hour's drive from Cuska. After weeks of chasing down leads, we locate Zvonko Cvetkovic, the suspected militiaman, in Montenegro, less than 25 miles from the Kosovo border. We are told he is living in a grimy, hardscrabble town named Andrijevica, a place known mainly for its unyielding support to Slobodan Milosevic.

We arrive unannounced at a dreary apartment block, with laundry hanging out the windows and firewood stacked in the courtyard. We approach the place a bit uncertain about the kind of man we'll find. In an ongoing effort to crack down on armed Serbs who are seen as a threat to the republic's moderate leadership, days before our arrival, Montenegrin police raided homes in Andrijevica, confiscating machine guns and grenades. Among the homes searched was that of Zvonko Cvetkovic.

In the courtyard, five or six Serbs linger around a small fire, sipping plum brandy and sharpening knives. They're preparing to slaughter an enormous hog. With great heaves they wrestle the beast to its side, with one man holding each leg. A fifth man takes tight hold of the hog's head and, with a quick flash of the knife, slashes open its throat. Thick red blood pours to the soil as the hog sputters its last breath.

Inside the building, in a small second-story apartment, we finally meet Zvonko Cvetkovic. Together with his wife, daughters, and in-laws, Cvetkovic offers us coffee and agrees to talk. He is an average-sized 46-year-old with graying, bushy hair and that distinctive meandering eye the villagers remembered. Cvetkovic is eager to deny reports he'd seen in the local papers -- and heard were posted on the Internet -- that Human Rights Watch and news organizations had linked him to war crimes in Cuska.

"All I was interested in was going to work in the morning and coming home in the afternoon," says Cvetkovic. "I was never in Cuska. I was never in the militia, and I never took up a gun."

When we explain that several people say they saw him in Cuska during the attack, Cvetkovic pounds the table and says, "Let me tell you. If my own brother had been involved in something like this, I would say so. These were dogs, not men, who did this kind of work in Cuska."

Though Cvetkovic insists he sat out the war, he tells us precise details about the militia units and their commanders. How did he know so much? Cvetkovic doesn't say. But he implores us to go to Pec to speak with Albanians who, he says, will back up his story. So we head down the mountain road from Montenegro, back to Pec.

Sure enough, in Pec we find an Albanian family that, during the war, was escorted by Cvetkovic past Serbian checkpoints on their way out of Kosovo. But it turns out a few other crucial details Cvetkovic told us don't quite check out. For example, the Albanian family insists that when Cvetkovic drove them to the border he was in combat gear and carrying a machine gun. This contradicts Cvetkovic's repeated statements to us that he never donned combat clothes and never took up arms. It turns out he helped the family because his brother-in-law was a close friend, and, the Albanians say, Cvetkovic drove to the border grudgingly.

Another Albanian that Cvetkovic told us to visit says he saw Cvetkovic armed and in uniform weeks before the raid on Cuska. Finally, a third man Cvetkovic said would vouch for him, a former co-worker called Dardan, suspects Cvetkovic was collaborating with the militia gangs in Pec.

"He would always come right over to talk to us Albanians," says Dardan. "But he was also the most extreme among the Serb workers. He would say, 'We need to kill all the Albanians, take bulldozers, and flatten the villages; just expel them all.' I don't know, maybe they were just words."

It seems clear enough that Cvetkovic joined up with the militias in the assault on Cuska but was probably an insignificant foot soldier in the operation. So we begin to search instead for the militia commanders that Cvetkovic and many Serbian fighters say were most active in the area.

Next: Lightning Strikes