The indictments for "war crimes" put additional pressure on the Serbs - to drive some away, to prevent others from returning

Sa suđenja
Source: Kosovo Online

The crisis in the north of Kosovo caused by the violent incursion of Kosovo Special Forces into municipal buildings and the imposition of illegitimate Albanian mayors was followed not only by numerous unfounded arrests of the Serbs, often with unnecessary and excessive use of force, but also by a new "wave" of indictments for alleged war crimes, which in the last two month were issued by the Special Prosecutor's Office.

Lawyers who defend those accused say for Kosovo Online that the "targets" are mainly the Serbs who have been in the system of Kosovo institutions for years and now have suddenly become disputed, those who are trying to legally get their usurped property, as well as people who would like to return to their homes in Kosovo.

For the lawyers Ljubomir Pantovic, Dejan Vasic, and Jovana Filipovic, there is no doubt that the timing of this accelerated indictment for war crimes is not accidental, that it comes at a moment of serious escalation of the situation in the north and that the aim is to increase the already existing pressure on the Kosovo Serbs and among them brings unrest, and sends a message to those who are thinking of returning to Kosovo to give it up.

No one knows on what basis he can end up in a Kosovo prison, many people are already there in detentions that last too long, so people interpret it all as a continuation of the pogrom by other means because, under the current pressure, it is difficult to plan the future in Kosovo.

According to the information of our interlocutors, there are currently about ten people in Kosovo prisons against whom an indictment for war crimes has been issued. Just since the beginning of May, the Special Prosecutor's Office of Kosovo has issued several indictments for war crimes in absentia.

At the beginning of this week, Sladjan Trajkovic, a former member of Kosovo special units, who was arrested on December 15 last year in Bosniak Mahala in North Mitrovica, also faced those charges. At the beginning of November last year, together with other colleagues, he left the Kosovo Police as a sign of protest against the violence that the authorities in Pristina are carrying out against the Serbs in the north.

His defense attorney, Lawyer Vasic, previously wrote to the ambassadors of the Quint countries to use diplomatic means to influence the Special Prosecutor's Office of Kosovo to allow Sladjan Trajkovic house arrest, due to his extremely poor state of health due to inadequate treatment. He also filed appeals with the Kosovo judicial authorities - without results.

Vasic cites several cases of those convicted and accused of war crimes that illustrate, as he says, the injustice faced by the Serbs before the Kosovo judiciary.

He emphasized the case of Zlatan Krstic from the village of Nerodimlje who lived in Kragujevac before and after the war and was sentenced to 14.5 years in prison before the Basic Court in Pristina without any of the 10 witnesses who were heard in the case accusing him at all. Then Nenad Arsic from Caglavica, sentenced to six years based on the statements of two witnesses, who radically changed those statements during the trial. Svetomir Bacevic from Belo Polje near Pec had been convicted, the lawyer said, despite the fact that the victim whom he had allegedly tried to kidnap said in court that he had not done it and that she did not even know him. However, the court believed another witness, with whom the Bacevic family has had problems for years, and in connection with the sale of the estate, which the Bacevic family refused.

"Gavrilo Milosavljevic, a returnee to Istok, has been coming to his birthplace for more than 20 years, where he tried to free the apartment of his missing mother and to find her remains, because it is obvious that she did not survive the war period and that she died under still unexplained circumstances. Kosovo treated him well after he tried to return, by putting him in prison, based on the statements of some witnesses that we have not had full insight into yet. He has been in prison for more than half a year, with quite serious health problems," Vasic states.

Sladjan Trajkovic from North Mitrovica, originally from the vicinity of Vucitrn, is in a similar situation, and for six months now he does not know what he is being accused of. Vasic points out that his health condition has become alarming to such an extent that those who decide on detention should ask themselves if they will be accountable for this man.

"There is the arrest of Dragisa Milenkovic from Gracanica, which greatly disturbed the citizens. He has lived there forever, as has his family, he was an employee of the District Prison in Pristina before the war and has no blemishes in his career. He was reported by an unbalanced person with whom he already had problems in the past, who shot at him and was convicted for it, which the Special Prosecutor's Office could hardly wait for and put Milenkovic in custody. And, in the previous month, no investigative work was carried out. Similarly to Sladjan, and Dragisa he has really serious health problems, with those two bullets that were never removed from his body, with chronic diseases and almost completely blind," Vasic says.

When asked how much all this affected the Serbs in Kosovo, as well as those who were thinking of returning, Vasic responded with a counter-question:

"Think if you are a citizen of Istok and you had the desire to return, would you do that after Gavrilo Milosavljevic was arrested? Everyone knows that family in Istok, both the Albanians and the Serbs, everyone knows what a good and peaceful man he is, who went to find the bones of his dead mother and to have his apartment returned to him. Will anyone come back after that? No one will. No one will come to exercise some much less important rights in Kosovo, let alone the right to life on his property. Who will come to Nerodimlje after what happened to Zlatan Krstic," Vasic asks.

He says that it is clear to everyone that war crimes took place.

"Many of those cases have been completed in Serbia, many have been convicted, but no one talks about it. I believe that the person who did such a thing would never have thought of coming to Kosovo. That desire of Kosovo to settle accounts with the Serbs who inflicted evil has come down to prosecuting and convicting people who have nothing to do with it, which is a sin," the lawyer said.

He also warns that this approach of the Kosovo judiciary will also affect the fact that the Serbs leave Kosovo because they fear that they could face some unfounded accusations and be arrested.

"If one 'Civil Protection', which is an organ of Kosovo, is declared a terrorist organization, imagine how many employees there are who are rightly afraid that someone will take them to prison tomorrow as terrorists," Vasic says.

Lawyer Jovana Filipovic, who represents Dusko Arsic, who was arrested in Jarinje in December 2021, for an alleged war crime from 1999, tells Kosovo Online that the arrests of the Serbs increase the already existing pressure on citizens.

She reminds that Arsic was arrested on December 8, 2021, in Jarinje, when he set out with his two children to solve problems with the usurpation of property in the village of Maticane near Pristina.

"Meanwhile, on September 23, a man contacted the Kosovo Police claiming that Arsic mistreated him," she says.

She points out that this brings additional insecurity among the Serbs, because it may happen that if you try to exercise any of your rights, property, or other, instead of justice, you will receive a lawsuit for a war crime.

"People are constantly contacting me and asking if we can guarantee that they will not be arrested if they come and try to exercise some of their rights. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee that to anyone. We have no insight into what the Kosovo authorities are doing and who is on any lists. Many people do not even come to Kosovo for these reasons and do not try to exercise certain rights," our interlocutor points out.

She points to another "phenomenon" when it comes to indictments for war crimes, which is the re-initiation of those processes against persons who were previously charged by EULEX and which were dismissed.

"This is, for example, the case of Djokovic from Vitomirica, near Pec. All those people who are currently in detention and came to Kosovo before, in the previous 23 years, regularly crossed the administrative crossings, and gave their identity cards; they were available. Why are they arrested now? I can only interpret that as a form of pressure and intimidation," Filipovic says.

She points out that with this, and especially now when the indictments are multiplying in absentia for war crimes, there is an obvious attempt to justify the narrative about the Serbs as a criminal people.

"I don't want to prejudge, but most of those who were indicted in absentia will be convicted, because they will not have the opportunity to defend themselves. All of them have been assigned an ex officio lawyer from Pristina, I assume that they will be Albanians; I do not know that any of my colleagues have been called to represent the defendant in these cases. If we have ten Serbs convicted of war crimes, of course, the image will go to the world and among all international organizations as if only the Serbs committed war crimes in Kosovo," Filipovic says, who is in the defense team of Dragisa Milenkovic from the vicinity of Gracanica, who was arrested at the end of June, also charged with war crimes.

And lawyer Ljubomir Pantovic tells Kosovo Online that there are three main categories of people who are accused, arrested, and convicted of war crimes by the Kosovo judiciary. The first are those who have worked in the Kosovo system for years, even decades, even in the security structures, and now suddenly, for other, often political reasons, they are being targeted. The second group is those who want to realize some of their rights, usually property rights, and the third is those who have been out of Kosovo for a long time and are trying to return.

"Until 2018, when EULEX was the holder of judicial power in Kosovo, and before that when it was UNMIK, only four Serbs were convicted of war crimes. All the others against whom the Kosovo judiciary issued charges were acquitted. In the last four years, we have had eight final verdicts for war crimes. At the moment, proceedings are being conducted for about ten people on charges of war crimes. That says it all," Pantovic says.

He points out that Albanian politician in Kosovo are constantly talking about the war crimes of the Serbs.

"They want as many convicted Serbs as possible in order to justify the story of alleged genocide and unpunished war crimes. For this purpose, there are indictments for war crimes in absentia. And I fear that there will be more and more of them," Pantovic warns.

He adds that he does not deny that there was a crime, but that it seems to him that it is not important to the Kosovo judiciary that the real culprits are brought to justice, but that any Serb should be held accountable and punished.

"And then they do some kind of selection, they point the finger at someone, and they arrest and prosecute him unjustly. They find two witnesses and the matter is over. I will tell you the case of Goran Stanisic from the village of Slovi, near Lipljan. That's where the crime really happened on the 14th and 15th of April 1999 against civilians. The prosecution's main witness was a woman, whose five family members were killed. She gave a total of six statements in connection with that event. In the five statements she gave before the arrest of Stanisic in 2019, she did not mention him once. When they arrested him, she says that she had seen him participating in the crime. They want someone to 'pay', it doesn't matter who," Pantovic says.