The Promise of Justice : Burning the Evidence  

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

The Investigator

The job of investigating the graves fell to Captain Dragan Karleusa, a middle-aged police commander who is deputy commander of Serbia's anti-crime task force, a unit formed after Milosevic's ouster in October 2000. Karleusa's previous police work largely focused on vice and corruption inquiries. Without specifying what kind of evidence Serbian authorities had gathered, Karleusa alleges the graves are part of an elaborate cover-up ordered by Slobodan Milosevic to hide evidence of war crimes in Kosovo.

Karleusa says he was stunned by the sharp trajectory of the investigation. "We have a saying: 'We were hunting a rabbit and snared a wolf.' That means we thought we were looking for something small, but it turned out to be very big," he says.

The mass graves and eyewitness testimony compiled by Karleusa's team are also big discoveries for investigators from the ICTY in The Hague. In addition to teams from the International Red Cross and a Serbian human rights group, ICTY investigators have closely monitored the exhumations. As ICTY investigators rush to gather more evidence against former President Milosevic, they are seeking to establish direct links between Milosevic and military and police units that conducted ethnic cleansing operations.

For Dragan Karleusa, there is little doubt that the bodies pulled from graves hundreds of miles from Kosovo are those of missing ethnic Albanians. Sitting in his office in the Serbian Interior Ministry in Belgrade, Karleusa says, "These people were killed somewhere in Kosovo. They were killed in one way or another. That's the first part of the story. The other part is the way these people were then transported from there to here in order to hide the bodies."

One key piece of evidence pointing to Milosevic's involvement in the cover-up: where the grave sites are actually located. Most were discovered on or near police bases where Milosevic's elite units were stationed and trained in clandestine operations. According to Belgrade press reports, more evidence against Milosevic is believed to have come from a former senior police official who provided a basic outline of the body disposal operation to investigators.

Nevertheless, Dragan Karleusa says his team is still trying to piece together how the operation was conducted and where all the bodies went. "One aspect of the investigation is to find out how the system worked," Karleusa says. "Who drove trucks, who gave orders on the ground, who escorted trucks, who ordered where the bodies were to be disposed?"

Next: "Civilians Were the Priority"

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