HLC - PRESS - In the name of the victims - Kosovo 1999- by Natasa Kandic
- IN THE NAME OF THE VICTIMS
Women and Children Murdered in Podujevo on 28 March 1999
Police and troops from Serbia began arriving in Podujevo on 20 March,
shooting off their guns, shattering store windows and pillaging. When the
bombing started on 24 March 1999, the ethnic Albanian population stayed
indoors, communicating with each other only through their adjacent yards.
Those who lived on the outskirts moved in with relatives and friends in the
town center, believing they would be safer there. Almost every Albanian
home in the center was giving shelter to people from the suburbs and
Podujevo was ethnically cleansed on 28 March. Over 10,000 Albanians were
driven out of their homes, formed into columns, marched through the center
and told to continue along the only route left free by the Serbian forces.
Entering Albanian houses in the center, Serbian police led by local
policemen and mobilized civilians killed at least 19 Albanian civilians at
three different locations. Their bodies lay where they were killed for two
days before the local Civil Defense was able to arrange transfer to the
Pristina (Prishtina) morgue. None of the Albanians knows when the bodies
were returned and buried in a row of shallow graves in the Podujevo
cemetery. Only three of the graves were marked. Investigators of The
Hague Tribunal were present when the bodies were exhumed for reburial in
June 1999. A second exhumation took place in 2000 when the remains of 11
persons were taken to the Forensic Medicine Institute in Orahovac to be
autopsied. To avoid yet more digging up of graves, Enver Duriqi, who lost
four children, his wife and his parents, buried their bodies on a hill
above his house on the outskirts of Podujevo.
I heard about the deaths of the Podujevo women and children in April 1999
from an elderly Albanian taxi driver in Belgrade, who was regularly
visiting two children at the Belgrade Pediatric Hospital: nine-year-old
Lirrie Bogujevci, a survivor of the Podujevo killings, and a boy from Pec
who was seriously injured in a shell explosion.
I passed through Podujevo some time later, on 19 April, hoping to meet
someone who could direct me to Lirrie's father. But the streets were
teeming with uniformed men who looked like bandits and robbers, and I was
afraid to stop any of them to ask questions. Two days later, I saw a
column of several thousand Albanians on the road from Pristina to Podujevo.
An elderly man told me the police had given them permission to return to
Podujevo. I saw, however, that the column did not go into Podujevo. Only
people registered as residents of the town were allowed to return; the rest
had to find shelter in the woods where they remained until the deployment
of the international forces in Kosovo.
I found Selatin Bogujevci, Lirrie's father, two years later. He told me
his children and his brother`s, all five of them, had survived. We spoke
many times and after each conversation he talked with his children about 28
March. He would call me on the phone or write, saying the children were
still taking it very hard, that his youngest, Genc, always fell silent when
they talked about what had happened or when his mother's name was
mentioned. The last time we spoke, on 10 November this year, he told me
that Genc, now nine, had talked about the shooting for the first time and
said he remembered the man who had fired his gun at them.
In Podujevo, I spoke with people in Ivana Kosancica and Rahmana Morine
Streets. On 30 and 31 October 2002, I went through all the houses and
yards from which people had been thrown out on 28 March. In Halim Gashi's
yard I saw the small old house against whose walls people had been shot.
Although the walls had been whitewashed, bullet holes were still
discernible on them and on the concrete path.
Rexhep Kastrati told me how the police entered Albanian homes in Podujevo.
The house he shares with the Gjata family is situated about 100 meters from
the town hall and the police station, and was the first the police came to.
It has three entrances. Kastrati was on the second floor with his wife,
daughters, older sisters and their children. Besides them, there were also
refugees they had taken in. His sons had left for Pristina the day before.
This is how Kastrati described what happened when the police came:
We heard the sound of the front door being broken down at about 8 o'clock.
My sister Nurije went first, with me right behind her. A young man who
seemed to be in charge of the group came in first. He was in green
camouflage fatigues. The others wore different kinds of uniform; some like
the first one, others were in blue police uniforms and still others in
black. About 20 of them had black bands or scarves around their heads. A
few were wearing glasses. The young man could have been 23 or 24. He was
tall and strongly built and his head was shaved. He had strange greenish
eyes and a nice face, like Arkan's. He had a badge on his shoulder but I
couldn't make it out. As soon as he was inside, he grabbed me by the shirt
with one hand and trained his automatic at me with the other. He asked how
many people were in the house and I said a lot. My sister Nurije took out
a roll of banknotes and held it out to him. She didn't say anything
because she doesn't speak Serbian. He asked why the woman was giving him
money and I replied it was because he would tell us in which direction we
were to go. She also gave him gold coins, necklaces and earrings.
I remember that young man; he held me and gave me a hard time for at least
half an hour. He kept me close to himself and I could smell him. It was a
funny smell. From time to time, he would take a small bottle from the top
pocket of his uniform and smell it. The liquid it held was colorless. He
became more aggressive each time he uncorked the bottle and sniffed it. He
asked me more than once how come I spoke such good Serbian, and I replied
it was because of my work. He asked why we had stayed and not run away.
He kept swearing all the time. He pushed me toward the stairs, smashed in
the door with his foot and asked me what was in there. I said it was the
basement. He tried to push me down the stairs. I struggled, my daughter
cried and begged him to spare her father, and Nurije kept pulling my arm,
trying to stop him from taking me away. Then they threw us out into the
There were police and men in camouflage and black uniforms in the street.
My daughter saw Toma Petrovic, a Podujevo policeman. She saw him again a
month later in Prishtina, went up to him and said he was in our house when
we were driven out. He asked on what date that was, calculated and
admitted to her that he was in the uniformed group that 28 March. All he
said was that I had been very lucky, that God himself had saved me.
We were all in our bare feet because we hadn't had time to put anything on.
My other sister is paralyzed and her daughters dragged her over the steps
into the street. She wasn't even dressed. As we went through the yard,
the young man noticed several cars that belonged to the refugees and said,
"Just look at that - it's like a car show." Apart from one that wouldn't
go, we didn't find any of the cars when we came back in June.
When we were all out in the street, they lined us up. The young man pulled
me out of the line and began giving me a hard time again. He pointed his
gun at me. Then a dog started barking and he asked me why. I didn't know
what to say. As he ill-treated me, another one came up and said to him:
"Leave the man alone; stop badgering him." He let me go then, turned his
gun around and hit me right in the mouth with the butt, splitting my upper
and low lips. My legs buckled under me but Nurije held me up. The young
man fired a burst into the air. I remember him very well and I'm sure he's
the one on trial in Prokuplje. I saw his picture. He held me facing him
so I got a good look at his face. I also remember his smell. I would also
recognize the policeman who told him to leave me alone.
We went down the street in a column. Old Ejup and his son Florim were the
last to leave their house. They told us in which direction we were to go.
At the gate to the Bogujevci house, I saw them take Selman Gashi out of the
Florim Gjata (33) and his family were on the third floor of his uncle
Isak's house when the police came. His father Ejup (70), was wounded on 24
March and, when he heard the police, he changed his shirt and put on a
jacket to cover up the bloodstains. Ejup and his nephew Naser were shot by
soldiers on an intersection in the center of Podujevo. Naser was killed
instantly and Ejup was hit in the right side of the back and left upper
leg. He managed to get away and hide in the house of Rexhep Sekiraca.
Naser's body lay in the street for 12 hours until the police allowed
Sekiraca to take it to the Gjata family. They buried Naser in the yard.
When I spoke with Florim Gjata in Podujevo, I asked him about the cigarette
lighter mentioned by the defendant Cvjetan at his trial in Prokuplje.
Florim said the lighter was his uncle Isak's. He also said there were no
Kosovo Liberation Army uniforms or pistols in the house, as claimed by
Cvjetan, and told me about the events of 28 March in great detail.
When the police ordered them out of Isak's house, everyone did as they were
told. Florim and his wounded father, mother and one-year-old son were the
last. They were going down the stairs when two uniformed men came toward
One of them asked my father, "What is it; are you sick or wounded?" My
father said he was sick. I was behind him, with my son in my arms. When
they saw me, one of them said, "It's you we're looking for. Put down the
child." I said I couldn't because the baby wasn't even a year old. He
said, "Put your son down or I'll kill you both." He was standing on the
stairs below me and the other one was next to me. The other one didn't say
anything, just kept his gun pointed at me. He was 26 or 27. Both were in
camouflage fatigues and had badges on their shoulders. I think I made out
the word "Scorpion" on the badges, but I can't be sure.
The one who threatened me was tall, heavily built and his head so closely
shaved that he seemed to be bald. He had a big face. I had to put my son
down and he started screaming. Then the one with the gun beside me said,
"Leave the man be. Can't you see the child is crying? I have a child like
him." I bent down to pick up my son but the bald one yelled that I was to
leave him where he was. The other one told me to take the child and go. I
picked up the baby and went down the stairs. I hadn't taken two steps when
I saw the policeman Tomo Petrovic in front of me. "Tomo, for heaven's
sake. You know I have a small child and these two want to kill me," I
said. He just shrugged his shoulders. I went down and was near the front
door when I heard a burst of shots. I thought they had killed everyone who
had left the house before me. A column had already been formed in the
street. We joined it and went in the direction of the Lap river.
From the Gjata yard, it is easy to get to the Bogujevci family compound in
Ivana Kosancica Street (now Skenderbegova). The Bogujevci brothers, Safet
and Selatin, and their surviving children no longer live there; the house
is empty and their sister comes to check on it now and then. The compound
also contains the houses of their late father, Uka, and uncles Maliq and
Qazim. Two or three days before the start of the bombing, Selatin saw an
acquaintance, Enver Duriqi, with his family on a tractor with trailer and
at a loss as where to go. Selatin told them they could stay in his uncle
Qazim's empty house.
Selatin, Safet, and Enver Duriqi fled before the police arrived in the
compound, after hearing gunfire and some kind of uproar in the town. An
armored personnel carrier was standing in front of their house. Having
heard that the police and paramilitaries were killing Albanian men, the
women and children begged them to get away while they still could.
Duriqi's father, the elderly Hamdi, stayed with the women and children.
Running through the yards, the three men reached a field some 100 meters
from the house, where there were many people who were either fleeing the
police and military or had been driven by them from their homes.
More and more people kept arriving all day, some on foot with a few
belongings in bags, others on tractors. No one had any news about the
Bogujevci and Duriqi families. When night fell, Selatin joined a group
that made its way to Ballovac village, while Safet and Enver stayed, hoping
to be joined by the women and children. Safet went to Ballovac the next
day, and Enver two days later, without having heard anything about their
families. Together with others, they moved from village to village, driven
by the Serbian forces at their heels who shelled every village in which
civilians found shelter. From Ballovac, they went to Hertice, Sajkovac,
Batllava and then to Koliq where, on 14 April, they heard that the children
were in hospital.
A man who had been at the hospital to pick up his son, who had been
operated on before the bombing started, brought a message that Saranda,
Jehona, Fatos and Genc were in the Pristina hospital, and that Lirrie had
been taken to Belgrade. Saranda had given him a scrap of paper with their
names on it, "just in case you meet our fathers somewhere." The next day,
Safet and Enver went to the hospital and spoke with Saranda and Jehona, but
were afraid to ask about the boys, who were in the orthopedic ward.
Shelling forced the civilians to leave Koliq on 18 April. Selatin says
that many people were killed. They went to Pristina, where the police told
them that everyone from Podujevo was to go back home. At the gasoline
station just outside Podujevo, the police directed them to Sajkovac. Since
all the houses in the village had been burned, the people went on to
Sibovac. Only one Albanian house in that village had not been burned and
looted, thanks to a Serb neighbor. They spent the night there and returned
to Shajkovac the next day. A few days later, the police told them they
could return to the "liberated" parts of Podujevo. Some people did, but
the majority stayed in the woods. Those who returned were accompanied by
Inspector Nebojsa Maljevic of the Podujevo police station who rode in a
police car, and Faik Jashari, a member of the Serbian delegation at the
Rambouillet talks, in a black Mercedes. Maljevic took the Bogujevci
brothers to their compound, went into the yard, and came back saying the
houses were occupied.
It was only after the arrival of the international forces in Podujevo that
Selatin and Safet Bogujevci and Enver Duriqi entered the compound. In
Halim Gashi's yard, they saw evidence of the crime. Seljatin recounted:
There were blood stains on the whole path, all the way to the gate. One
wall of the old house and the yard wall were pockmarked with bullet holes.
There were also traces of a child's brain on the wall of the house. I
found a child's boot near the tap in the yard; marbles and women's scarves
were scattered all around. Enver's wife's watch had stopped at two minutes
to eleven... I found my wife Shefkate's identity card on the storage
heater in our house. I didn't find the bags we had packed and kept in the
yard near my uncle's house all during the war. We hadn't had time to take
them with us and somebody probably took them before the war ended. I found
photographs taken with my camera in Dumnice village, thrown around and
damaged. We found 97 shell casings on a few square meters of ground in the
A Serb at the morgue in Pristina showed me a book in which 19 unidentified
bodies were registered. According to the book, the bodies had been brought
there by Milan Anastasijevic of the Civil Defense. I don't know when they
were buried. Tefik Gashi, the pathologist who examined the bodies, told me
the belongings found on them were taken by forensics inspector Zivojin
"Zika" Cvetkovic. We found 19 unmarked graves at the cemetery, and three
with the names Amdi Duriqi, Isma Duriqi, and Fitnete Shabani.
Killed in Halim Gashi's Yard
Seven children and seven women were shot to death in Halim Gashi's yard:
Shpetim (born in 1989) and Spend (1986), the sons of Safet Bogujevci; his
wife Sala (1960); Nora (1984), the daughter of Selatin Bogujevci; his wife
Shefkate (1956); Shehide Bogujevci (1932); Nefise Bogujevci Llugaliu
(1945), the sister of Selatin and Safet; her daughter-in-law Fezdrije
Llugaliu (1978); Dafina (1990), Arber (1992), Mimoza (1995), and Albin
(1997), the children of Enver Duriqi; Fitnete nee Shabani (1963), wife of
Enver; and Isma (1930), Enver's mother. Saranda (1985), Safet's daughter;
and Selatin's children Fatos (1986), Jehona (1990), Lirrie (1990), and Genc
(1993) were seriously wounded.
The Children Remember
The children told their fathers and the Tribunal's investigators what
happened after Selatin, Safet, and Enver left the compound. Selatin would
call me on the phone or write to tell me what they had said:
After the three of us left, my family and Safet's moved over to my uncle's
house, where the Duriqis were. When the police started going into houses,
the mothers decided it would be safer out in the street. Enver's father
 Hamdi was the only man with them. They were just leaving the house
when a group of uniformed men came into the yard and stopped them. The
children say there were a lot of them, in camouflage and police uniforms.
They remember a tall policeman with longish hair and an earring, an older
and shorter one with a beard, and a very young policeman with a military
cap with visor that was flat on the top. They say the youngest one
searched them the most. He checked their bags and didn't let them take
them when they were made to go through Selatin's yard to Naim Gashi's. The
youngest one and the one with the beard went with them.
There were a lot of police in Naim's yard; they broke down the fence. A
tall one with a short beard ordered the women to take off their
headscarves. They searched Shpetim and Arber, found their marbles and
threw them away. A tall one with short curly hair pulled out Shefkate, put
his hands in her pockets, and threw the dinars he found all around. Then
he took her to the old house at the bottom of Naim's yard and dragged her
inside. The children saw this just before they were made to go into
Halim's yard, which was also full of police, and then out into Rahmana
Morine Street. There were all kinds of uniforms in the street: military,
police, men in civilian pants and military camouflage tops, or police pants
and military tops. They had poles and ax handles with which they smashed
shop windows, and swore all the time. They [Albanian civilians] were made
to go in the direction of the police station, in a column with old Hamdi at
They were ordered to halt outside the Drina Cafe. A man in police pants
and military top started yelling at old Hamdi, knocked off his white cap
and slapped him. Then he ordered another one to take Hamdi into the cafe
and pointed to Selman Gashi, who was in the column, standing near a store.
The other one led both of them into the cafe and, a few moments later, the
children heard two shots. The women and children were told to go back to
where they had come from.
They returned to Halim's yard where they found Shefkate whom they had left
in Naim's yard, and the same police who had driven them out before. They
saw the policeman who had dragged Shefkate into Naim's old house. A
policeman started yelling at Fezrije, took out his knife and hit her on the
head with the hilt. The same policeman pulled Shefkate by the her hair,
and they saw her crying and saying something to him. She was the only one
who spoke Serbian. As the children watched, the policeman pushed Shefkate
and shot her in the back. She fell down and he fired another shot at her.
The children started crying. They were facing the policeman when he threw
away his empty rifle, took a loaded one and fired at them. The women and
children fell down beside the wall of the house. Saranda heard the sound
of a new clip being put in a gun and then felt more bullets hitting her.
At one pointed, she raised her head and saw her younger brother Shpetim
without his head, and Enver's son Arber with his face blown away. Saranda,
Jehon, Lirrie, Fatos and Genc were all hit in several places on the body
and in the left hand. They remember someone giving them first aid and
being driven to the Prishtina hospital in an ambulance. Lirrie was taken
from there to Belgrade where she was in hospital until 10 October 1999.
More Deaths in Ivana Kosancica Street
Selim and Idriz Tahiri were killed and Nazim Veseli wounded the same day in
Ivana Kosancic Street. Nazim and Isak Jusufi, who survived unscathed,
recounted to me what happened. There were some 50 people in the house of
Nazim's uncle when the police came at about 10 o'clock. The police were in
camouflage uniforms and Nazim saw they had local Serbs as guides. He
recognized Dragan Biocanin, who worked in the local administration on
territorial defense and military affairs. Biocanin's brother Boban was
Dragan took Selim Tahiri to lead them to other houses. A lot of policemen
stayed with us; the yard was full of them. One said the men should be
taken to the police station. Selim had been brought back in the meantime.
They took me, Selim, Idriz, and Isak and led us out into the street, then
back again and into the entrance hall of the house. Then Boban Biocanin
came in and said, "What are you doing here, f... you!" He started firing
at us right away. We were lined up. He shot me first, then Selim, Idriz
and Isak. He emptied his gun firing at us. I was hit me twice, in the
stomach and the right arm, below the elbow. We fell down and they didn't
check to see if anyone was still alive. They left. Our people bundled me
and Isak over the wall and carried us to the Lap river where there were a
lot of people.
Sasa Cvjetan and Dejan Demirovic, former members of the Serbian police
force and reservists in the Scorpion unit, have been charged with war
crimes against the civilian population under Art. 142 (1) of the Yugoslav
Criminal Code. They are currently on trial before the District Court in
Prokuplje, Demirovic in absentia since he is still at large. The specific
charges are the murders of four identified and several unidentified
persons, and the wounding of several unidentified persons on 28 March 1999
in Podujevo, Kosovo.
At trial, the defendant retracted the statement he gave to the
investigating judge in May 1999 in which he confessed to the killings. Like
Cvjetan, the witnesses, also members of the Scorpion unit, appear to be
frighteningly normal. They all reiterated under oath that "nobody killed
anyone, nobody fired at women and children." They do not deny seeing the
bodies of dead civilians on 28 March 1999 in an Albanian yard in Podujevo
but, like Cvjetan, do not know who killed them or when.
The trial chamber denied the prosecutor's motion that I be called as a
witness to tell the court what I had heard from eyewitnesses and survivors.
It thus openly demonstrated its bias in favor of the witnesses, who in
giving testimony do their very best to shield the defendants. These
witnesses set the tone of the trial.
The court has shown no interest in obtaining evidence of the crimes, and
seems determined to treat grave breaches of international law as sporadic
acts committed by individuals under the pressure of the NATO bombing.
Can the Prokuplje District Court see to it that justice is done? Can it
bring any kind of relief to the victims? My answer is that the trial of
Sasa Cvjetan gravely undermines justice and the human dignity of the
victims. Such trials are not an appropriate place for victims to appear
and be heard.
Belgrade, 18 November 2002 Natasa Kandic
HLC Executive Director