THE CONCEALMENT OF BODIES OPERATION
Since 2001, mass graves containing the bodies of 941 Kosovo Albanians, mainly civilians killed outside combat situations in Kosovo during 1999, have been found on four locations in Serbia. According to the UNMIK Office on Missing Persons and Forensics (OMPF), 744 bodies of Kosovo Albanians have been discovered in Batajnica, on the outskirts of Belgrade, at least 61 in Petrovo Selo, and 84 at Lake Perućac. At least 52 bodies have been subsequently found in the mass grave at Rudnica.
Information on the secret removal of the bodies of Kosovo Albanians from Kosovo to Serbia and their subsequent burial in mass graves was disclosed for the first time on 25 May 2001 in a document entitled “Information”, prepared by a Working Group established by the Serbian Ministry of the Interior (MUP) to investigate the matter. Shortly afterwards, the first exhumations began at the Batajnica mass grave site (on 2 June 2001), followed by exhumations in Petrovo Selo (on 25 June 2001) and at Lake Perućac (on 6 September 2001). On 13 December 2013, the first human remains were unearthed from the mass grave at Rudnica.
In this very “Information” of the Working Group, it was stated that the decision to conceal evidence of crimes committed was planned as early as March 1999 at the highest level of the government, and that the then President of the FRY, Slobodan Milošević, ordered Vlajko Stojiljković, Minister of the Interior at the time, to take measures to remove evidence of mass crimes against Kosovo Albanian civilians. That the operation to conceal corpses was planned at the highest level of government was corroborated also by other evidence presented before the ICTY and the War Crimes Department of the District Court in Belgrade, which is analysed in this Dossier.
The analysed testimonies and accompanying witness statements could be divided into two groups: the first group comprises statements given by eyewitnesses and survivors of crimes; the second group, more numerous, comprises statements of insiders, mostly members of the police and workers of utility companies, who took part in the transportation and burial of the bodies. In addition to these, numerous police and military documents were also analysed, primarily those available through the ICTY database, but also some documents the HLC acquired on its own, independently of the courts.
The evidence not only corroborated the conclusions of the Working Groups that the operation was planned and ordered by the most senior political and police leadership of the FRY and Serbia, but also indicated that members of both departments of the Serbian MUP (RJB and RDB), from all levels of the police hierarchy – from the most senior officials to the lowest ranking police officers – were involved in it. So was the VJ, through its departments in charge of “clearing up the terrain”. Civilians and workers of municipal utility companies also took part in removing the corpses, and the machines and other equipment of these companies were also used for this purpose, usually on the orders of local police officials.
The testimonies and statements of witnesses and available documentation from that time clearly Dossier: The cover-up of evidence of crimes during the war in Kosovo: THE CONCEALMENT OF BODIES OPERATION 8 suggest that the term “clearing up the terrain” or “sanitization” was abundantly used by politicians and military and police forces to refer to the illegal removal of bodies and their burial in clandestine mass graves in order to cover up the crimes committed.
From the statements of witnesses who took part in the transportation and burial of bodies it became evident that the bodies discovered in mass graves belonged to Kosovo Albanian civilians. This was further corroborated by eyewitness accounts and subsequent forensic analyses.
The bodies found in mass graves belonged not only to males, but also to females and children. The cause of their deaths, in most cases, was a gunshot wound, mainly to the head, suggesting that the victims did not die in combat but as a result of execution-style killings outside situations of combat.
Now, sixteen years after the discovery of the mass graves in Batajnica, Petrovo Selo and at Lake Perućac, and more than three years after the discovery of the mass grave at Rudnica, all these locations remain unmarked, without any sign to indicate that hundreds of bodies of men, women and children who had been killed in numerous mass crimes in Kosovo were buried in Serbia. The HLC has launched an initiative to establish a memorial site at the Batajnica mass grave site. At the time of the publication of this Dossier, the online petition in support of the initiative has been signed by several hundred people.1
No one has ever been held accountable before courts in Serbia for the large-scale operation of concealment of bodies of Kosovo Albanian victims in mass graves.