Anniversary of the Suva Reka crime

Author: RTV B92 News, Belgrade
Uploaded: Friday, 09 April, 2010

Report marking the anniversary of a notorious crime committed by Serbian security forces in Kosova, with an excerpt from the ICTY judgement against six senior Belgrade political and military leaders for command responsibility

Today marks the 11th anniversary of the murder of 50 ethnic Albanian civilians in Suva Reka, in Kosovo. The incident happened one day after NATO began its bombing campaign against Serbia. Men, women, children and elderly members of the Berisha family were killed by Serbian police officers in Suva Reka. The crime received a court epilogue before the Belgrade District Court’s War Crimes Council a year ago.

Police officers from Suva Reka executed several older members of the Berisha family, while they took the rest of the men, women and children into the nearby pizzeria 'Calabria' and threw in two hand grenades. After that they shot the victims, ages 1 to 100. The policemen, found guilty and convicted last year, killed anyone who showed any sign of life while they were removing the bodies from the pizza parlour. Only two women and a child survived the crime. The bodies of the Berisha family members were later found in a mass grave in Batajnica [near Belgrade].

RTV B92 News, Belgrade, 26 March 2010 (




[Excerpt from] ICTY Trial Chamber's Judgement (26 February 2009) in the case

The Prosecutor v. Milutinovic, Šainovic, Ojdanic, Pavkovic, Lazarevic and Lukic




492. On 26 March 1999 Shyrete Berisha could see two tanks positioned in the hills behind the house she was in, pointing towards the house. She could also see large movements of policemen and vehicles in the town. As a result the Berishas felt unable to leave the house or escape. At around noon Ms. Berisha saw a large number of policemen exiting the police station. They were wearing ‘different’ uniforms and carrying automatic rifles. A few were wearing civilian clothes, but were armed nonetheless. Some Roma were also present. They started moving towards the house. Ms. Berisha then heard one of them, Zoran Petkovic, call out Bujar's name. Bujar's mother Hava went out, but Petkovic kept asking for Bujar while shouting how they were going to kill all Albanians. Soon after Bujar finally went out, curses and gunshots were heard. Having heard the shots, the Berishas, some barefoot, started screaming and running towards the courtyard exit. While running with her children and Sedat's daughter, Dafina, Ms. Berisha saw Zoran Petkovic whose voice she had recognised earlier. A moment later, in front of Agron Berisha's house, she saw her husband, Nexhat, with ‘Miškovic’ who was wearing black civilian clothes. ‘Miškovic’ was shouting at Nexhat. Faton was grabbed by another policeman. A moment later she saw ‘Miškovic’ shoot Nexhat. Faton's mother, who was standing near him, grabbed Faton's hand and told the policeman holding him to take her instead of her son. Ms. Berisha also saw Sedat being grabbed by yet another policeman. She recognised some other people who were present. It appeared to her that Zoran Petkovic and ‘Miškovic’ were the leaders of this operation.

493. Ms. Berisha heard someone shouting ‘shoot at them, shoot at them’ and then saw Nexhmedin, who was near her, fall down. Realising that they would all be killed, she urged her children to divide into two groups and run. Ms. Berisha started running with Herolinda towards the petrol station, while Majlinda (holding Redon), Dafina, and Altin ran off in another direction. At the petrol station Ms. Berisha and Herolinda came across Jashar Berisha. Ms. Berisha quickly told him what had happened, and then continued to run until she reached a nearby pizzeria where she found the rest of the family. She talked to Avdi Berisha who told her that they had all gathered there because the police had told them to do so. Soon thereafter the rest of Ms. Berisha's children arrived, as did Lirije. At that moment a number of policemen came and ordered the whole group, now including many other Berisha family members, to get inside the pizzeria.

494. Once inside the Berisha family were told by the Serbian policemen to sit down. The police then started shooting and threw hand grenades into the pizzeria. When the shooting stopped, they entered the building and started lifting bodies, checking whether anyone was still alive and shooting them. Shyrete Berisha had been wounded by bullets and shrapnel, and was then shot one more time. Nevertheless, she and two others, Vjollca and Gramoz, survived the attack. The bodies of all of the people inside the pizzeria, including those of the three survivors, were then loaded onto a truck and transported in the direction of Prizren. Ms. Berisha, Vjollca, and Gramoz were able to escape from the truck along the way; they were then picked up by someone who took them to a nearby village where Ms. Berisha's injuries were treated. 495. Halit Berisha also gave evidence about these events on 26 March 1999. He testified that on that morning his brother Jashar went to work as usual, despite his urging him to stay at home. Mr. Berisha stayed at home. Around noon Jashar called him and said that he should leave as people were being killed in the centre of the town. Halit Berisha then gathered around 200 of his neighbours and family members and they all went to hide in the bushes near the town's river. At around 2:30 p.m. he went to a friend's house and called his brother at the petrol station. Jashar told him that Sedat, Nexhat, and Bujar Berisha had been killed by the police and that their families had been ‘massacred’ in the town's shopping centre. Halit Berisha urged Jashar to leave, but Jashar said that he would be home at 5:00 p.m. as he felt safe at work. Mr. Berisha spoke to his brother again at 4:30 p.m. After 5:30 p.m. he returned home in order to see if Jashar was there, but could not find him. The next morning he visited a local Serb family to see if they knew anything about Jashar's whereabouts, but they did not.

496. Halit Berisha described the clothes that his brother wore to work on 26 March, and explained that in July 1999 he found fragments of these clothes attached to a part of his brother's leg in a mass grave located at the firing range in Prizren. Jashar's body, however, was not found at that time. It was found later in a mass grave in Batajnica, and identified in September 2006 using a blood sample that he provided.

497. Hysni Berisha also testified that on the morning of 26 March 1999 ‘the Serbs’ started shelling the areas around Suva Reka/Suhareka town from the hill behind it. This is confirmed by Božidar Delic and Bislim Zyrapi who testified, as stated above, to the fighting that took place between the VJ/MUP forces and the KLA in the vicinity of the town. At around 7:00 a.m. Hysni Berisha saw from his house a number of policemen leaving the police station and moving towards the houses opposite to it. Two to three hours later he heard gunfire coming from the vicinity of Sedat Berisha's house and could see flames and smoke rising from the area. Since this continued until the evening, he and his family remained in their house, terrified.

498. In addition to the testimony of these members of the Berisha family, the Chamber heard compelling evidence concerning the killings in Suva Reka/Suhareka town from policeman K83, who participated in the attack. K83 testified that on the morning of 26 March 1999, he, Nenad Jovanovic, Radovan Tanovic, Sladan Cukaric, and Miki Petkovic were in a field patrolling the village of Ðinovci/Gjinofc. When they returned to the OUP building in Suva Reka/Suhareka, they saw two trucks parked in front of it. Policemen from the 37th PJP Detachment, known as the ‘Cegar’ unit, were getting out of the truck and moving on foot towards the road to Reštane/Reshtan. Their commanding officer, Radoslav Mitrovic, code-named ‘Cegar One,’ then arrived in his land rover. There were around 40 men of the Cegar unit there wearing green camouflage uniforms with military camouflage vests, which had the word ‘policija’ written in white letters on the back.

499. K83 testified that Mitrovic then walked over to Jovanovic and started shouting at him and the others to stop watching, but rather ‘get going’ and follow the unit. Jovanovic and the others were surprised, but started following the Cegar unit towards the first houses in the area, and to the house where ‘the OSCE had been previously’. Cukaric told the others to stop on the left and the right side of the house so that no one would shoot at ‘them’. The men from the Cegar unit were positioned next to the houses around the Berisha houses, but were not with K83 and his group. However, K83 confirmed that there was a certain ‘division of labour’ or ‘joint operation’ taking place since the actions of K83's group ensured that all houses in the area were now surrounded by police forces. Indeed, looking at the picture K83 drew of the movements of the Cegar unit, it is obvious that they swarmed the area in question, surrounding it completely.

500. The Cegar unit started shooting, although K83 did not give any detail about who they were shooting at, or if there was any return fire. The Cegar unit moved further along the Reštane road. K83 stated that he was scared because ‘shooting was coming from all sides’ and he could not find anywhere to hide. There is no specific evidence of anyone firing upon the MUP personnel. Once the shooting started, Jovanovic ran away and left K83, Cukaric, Tanovic, and Petkovic by themselves. At that moment K83 saw women and children running out of Vesel Berisha's house and fleeing towards the shopping centre. He went over to Tanovic and Cukaric, who were standing behind Shyrete Berisha's house and checking the identity papers of four men. The four men were lined up, facing a wall. K83 was instructed to follow the women, the children, and the elderly and report on their location. He then saw Cukaric and Tanovic shoot the four men.

501. K83 set off towards the bus station and the shopping centre, as instructed. At the bus station he saw a man and an elderly woman with leg wounds lying on the pavement. He went towards the alleyway in which the pizzeria was located. He could see approximately 35 to 40 women and children who appeared to have locked themselves inside the pizzeria. K83 went back and met up with Cukaric and Tanovic, informing them of the whereabouts of these people. He was told by them to go to the closest bar and get a drink. On the way he again passed by the wounded man and woman lying on the ground. He took two one-litre bottles of liquor from the bar. While still there, he heard shots being fired. Returning towards the pizzeria, he saw that the two had been shot in the head and were now dead. Sladan Cukaric was standing close to their bodies, holding a rifle.

502. K83, Cukaric (who was using his Motorola radio), Tanovic, and Petkovic quickly drank the two bottles of liquor. Cukaric then took out a hand grenade, told the others to take cover, and started moving towards the pizzeria. K83 could not see the pizzeria from where he was standing, but he heard the sound of a window being smashed and then heard an explosion. While waiting for the smoke to clear, Cukaric and Tanovic took turns to shoot into the pizzeria. Tanovic then threw in another hand grenade and the two men continued shooting. K83 testified that he was asked to participate, but said he was in no condition to do so and the others did not insist.

503. Eventually the men stopped shooting and the pizzeria was silent. Cukaric instructed Petkovic to stay at the top of the alleyway and K83 to move to its bottom in order to prevent people from coming near. Fifteen to twenty minutes later, Boban Vuksanovic, the commander of the local civil protection unit, and (FNU) Ðordevic, the commander of the ‘Territorial Defence’, arrived. Half an hour later a civilian truck with four men inside also arrived from the direction of Prizren. Vuksanovic called a group of men from the civil protection unit, mostly young boys of approximately 15 years of age and men who were around 50 or 60 years old. Cukaric told them that they would be killed if they did not do as they were told and told them to load the bodies on to the truck. Once the truck had been loaded, it drove off in the direction of Prizren. Immediately after that another empty truck arrived, and the men continued loading the rest of the bodies into it.

504. While the second truck was being loaded with bodies, K83 saw Jashar Berisha being brought to the pizzeria from the direction of the police station and the petrol station. He was brought in a vehicle, accompanied by several policemen, one of whom was Todor Jovanovic. As he got out of the vehicle, the truck and the corpses being loaded on to it were in plain view. He was then dragged towards the pizzeria while struggling to get away. Jashar said to Vuksanovic that he did not deserve this. Cukaric then grabbed his arm, pushed him towards the pizzeria, and shot him with his automatic rifle. According to K83, many people witnessed this event. Jashar's body was then added to those already in the truck. Once all the bodies were loaded, the truck drove off in the direction of Prizren. K83 stayed behind and saw Cukaric order the civil protection team to place sand and soil into the pizzeria in order to cover all the blood stains. However, this was not possible as there was no sand in the vicinity. When Cukaric left, Tanovic stayed behind to set fire to the curtain next to the pizzeria window. That had little effect since everything inside was made of metal, which would not burn.

505. The next day K83 was instructed to show the ‘civil defence’ team the remaining bodies scattered around the town so that they could be collected. An investigation was carried out by a team of investigators from Prizren SUP before the bodies were moved and buried in the cemetery, individually and under codes, which was the standard operating procedure for crime scene investigation and for burial. The team included Todor Jovanovic, the man who had brought Jashar Berisha to the pizzeria the previous day. K83 went with the team to the Berisha houses where they found the bodies of the four men shot the previous day, but the team was never taken to the pizzeria. After having visited the Berisha houses, they continued on to the police building and then towards Reštane/Reshtan, following the route the Cegar unit had taken the day before. They found other corpses in various houses, most of whom were men and all of whom had been shot. K83 informed the Chamber that many of these corpses were civilians. While they were on the road to Reštane/Reshtan, the team, wearing regular MUP uniforms and driving regular MUP vehicles, was shot at. K83 was not asked, however, who carried out this attack. He recalled that when they returned to the scene of the Berisha houses on 28 March 1999, they found a woman's body. She was around 50 or 60 years old and her leg and part of her arm were burned. K83 could not explain how the woman's body came to be there one day after the other four corpses were collected. In light of the fact that the team never went to the pizzeria, despite including Jovanovic and being guided by K83, who were both aware of the killings there, the Chamber considers that, overall, this investigation was not conducted in accordance with normal procedure.

506. K83 confirmed that there was no VJ presence in the town at the time of the killing in the pizzeria. The VJ was positioned outside of Suva Reka/Suhareka town, in a strategically important position on the mountain nearby, a place called Dulje/Duhel, where it was regularly attacked by the KLA. This fits with the evidence of Halit Berisha and Božidar Delic.

507. K83 further asserted that in the morning of 26 March 1999, prior to the killings, he was briefed by his shift leader, in accordance with usual practice, but this briefing did not include orders to kill anyone or to go to Berisha houses. He had no knowledge of any order or command given to his patrol to kill anyone. He also acknowledged that, when he had been questioned about the Berisha family incident by the Belgrade authorities and asked about the Berisha family, he had said that the Berishas were hot-tempered and that Cukaric and Tanovic possibly disliked them because the family was close to the KVM monitors, which meant that nobody could touch them. He confirmed that the residents of Suva Reka/Suhareka talked about the Berisha incident after the event, and that he himself talked about it with his co-workers and colleagues. He did not know whether any of these conversations reached his superior officers, although he believed that his immediate superior, Jovanovic, became aware of the incident afterwards.


g. Forensic Evidence

521. It was the evidence of K83 that only a small number of people from the Berisha family who were killed on 26 March 1999 were buried in Suva Reka/Suhareka cemetery, while the majority were first transported to Prizren, and later moved to Batajnica. The Chamber received forensic evidence from two different sources: materials relating to bodies exhumed in Suva Reka/Suhareka, and other materials dealing with bodies exhumed in Batajnica, near Belgrade. With respect to the first category, the Chamber heard from Dr. Eric Baccard whose report contains a section discussing forensic evidence gathered from the Suva Reka/Suhareka cemetery in September of 1999 by the experts of a British forensic team. Baccard's report is based on the following material: forensic anthropology report of Dr. Sue Black from 2 November 1999, two autopsy reports prepared by Dr. Yvonne Milewski on 31 January 2000, three anthropological summaries prepared by Dr. Black on 6 September 1999, and anthropological reports of Julie Roberts from 5 January 2000. According to Baccard, the remains of at least 18 individuals, the majority of them male and elderly, were among those recovered from the Suva Reka/Suhareka cemetery. Three of those were identified as Berishas, namely, Faton Berisha, Fatime Berisha, and Sedat Berisha, all of whom have also been identified by Shyrete Berisha as having been killed on 26 March 1999 in Suva Reka/Suhareka town.

522. The second source consisted of numerous reports and witness testimony from those who attended, supervised, and participated in the exhumations and identification of bodies from the mass graves in Batajnica, from 2001 onwards, as described in Section VII.P below; namely, Dušan Dunjic, Branimir Aleksandric, William Fulton, Jon Sterenberg, and Jose-Pablo Barayabar. The results of their work and the identifications they made of Suva Reka/Suhareka victims are analysed in Annex A of the Judgement.

523. The Chamber also heard from Antonio Alonso, an expert in genetic identification, who analysed the samples from some of the remains found in Batajnica. In the course of 2001 he received 56 skeletal remains from Dunjic and 13 blood reference samples of family members of people allegedly killed in Suva Reka/Suhareka from the ICMP for genetic analysis. Having conducted the analysis, Alonso provided four reports setting out the results. He positively identified 21 victims of whom a number are named in Schedule D of the Indictment, namely: Sofije Berisha, Vesel Berisha, Hava Berisha, Drilon Berisha, Redon Berisha, Melinda and/or Herolinda Berisha, Musli Berisha, Fatmire Berisha, Besim Berisha, Granit and/or Genc Berisha, Nexhmedin Berisha, Lirije Berisha who was pregnant, Afrim Berisha, Hamdi Berisha, one of Hamdi Berisha's four daughters, and Jashar Berisha. All but one of these victims, namely Afrim Berisha, were identified by Shyrete Berisha as people she saw in the course of the events of 26 March 1999 in Suva Reka/Suhareka town.


6. Findings

a. Berisha family killings in Suva Reka/Suhareka town

534. The Prosecution argues that both VJ and MUP personnel were responsible for the killing of the Berisha family, since the crime took place during a joint VJ/MUP action. The Pavkovic and Lazarevic Defences, on the other hand, argue that the evidence clearly points to the fact that no VJ soldiers were involved in these killings. The Lukic Defence, in turn, concedes that members of the police killed the Berishas but argues that the killings were committed for purely personal reasons, by intoxicated individuals, and were then covered up in a rushed manner, keeping both the chief of the Suva Reka OUP, and chief of the Prizren SUP, in the dark. This meant, according to the Lukic Defence, that neither the MUP Staff nor the RDB had any information relating to the crime.

535. Having carefully considered the evidence, the Chamber is satisfied that there was no KLA activity in the town at the time the 37th PJP Detachment, together with local policemen, mounted its action. Accordingly, the Chamber finds that these forces directed their activities against civilians, which is confirmed by K83's evidence of scattered corpses in civilian clothing found on Reštane/Reshtan road, which is the direction in which the PJP was seen to go. The Chamber is also satisfied that local Suva Reka/Suhareka policemen killed 45 members of Berisha family on 26 March 1999 in the vicinity of Shyrete Berisha's home, a nearby bus station and shopping centre, and inside a pizzeria. Since these killings took place during the PJP action, the Chamber is of the view that the members of the 37th PJP Detachment were instrumental in triggering this action by members of the local police. There is no evidence, however, that any VJ forces were involved.

536. The Chamber does not accept the Lukic Defence suggestion that the chiefs of the Suva Reka OUP and Prizren SUP had no knowledge of the killings, which took place a short distance from the OUP building. The number of people involved in the removal of a large number of bodies from the pizzeria meant that many in the town knew of the killings. In addition, K83 confirmed that residents of Suva Reka/Suhareka talked about the Berisha incident after the event, and that he talked about it with his co-workers and colleagues. He also believed that his immediate superior, Jovanovic, became aware of the incident afterwards. Finally, as stated above, the flawed investigation conducted by the Prizren SUP team nevertheless discovered a number of dead bodies in civilian clothing, including that of an elderly woman, scattered throughout Suva Reka/Suhareka, and would have put the authorities on notice. Thus, the Chamber is of the view that the chief of the Suva Reka OUP and the chief of the Prizren SUP must have had notice of the events that took place there on 26 March 1999. The fact that the Berishas were later exhumed from Prizren and moved to Batajnica in a large scale clandestine operation conducted by the MUP, as described below, also suggests that the high level MUP officials must have been told of the killings.

537. A description of the forensic and other evidence relating to individual victims from Suva Reka/Suhareka is contained in Annex A to the present Judgement. On the basis of this evidence, along with the testimony of Shyrete Berisha, Hysni Berisha, Halit Berisha, and K83, the Chamber finds that 45 people were killed in Suva Reka/Suhareka town on 26 March 1999, as a result of being either shot, or as a direct consequence of an explosion within the enclosed space where they were located.

538. Six persons, namely Nexhat Berisha, Fatime Berisha, Faton Berisha, Bujar Berisha, Sedat Berisha, and Nexhmedin Berisha, were killed, without any provocation or justification, in the vicinity of the Berisha compound on 26 March 1999, as testified to by Shyrete Berisha, and as confirmed by the various forensic experts. Five of them were buried in the Suva Reka/Suhareka cemetery, while Nexhmedin Berisha's remains were found in the mass grave in Batajnica.

539. Shyrete Berisha also placed a number of other Berisha family members in the pizzeria where the killings took place on that day, and witnessed them being killed. From this evidence the Chamber can conclude that these persons all died a violent and unprovoked death. Those victims were: Shyrete Berisha's four children, Majlinda, Herolinda, Altin, and Redon Berisha; Avdi Berisha; Besim Berisha; Dafina Berisha; Dorentina Berisha; Drilon Berisha; Edon Berisha; Eron Berisha; Fatime Berisha; Fatmire Berisha; Flora Berisha; Genci Berisha; Granit Berisha; Hajdin Berisha; Hanumusha Berisha; Hava Berisha; Ismet Berisha; Kushtrin Berisha; Lirije Berisha; Mevlude Berisha; Mihrije Berisha; Musli Berisha; Sebahate Berisha; Sherine Berisha; Sofije Berisha; Vesel Berisha; and Vlorjan Berisha. In addition, as outlined above in relation to half of these victims, the Chamber also has in evidence a significant amount of medical material

identifying remains found in Batajnica as theirs.

540. The Chamber notes that two of the victims, namely Afrim Berisha and Hamdi Berisha, were not identified by Shyrete Berisha as being present in the pizzeria on the day of the incident, but their remains were found in Batajnica together with the remains of the other Berisha family members killed on that day. The Chamber is satisfied that these two men were also killed together with the other Berishas on 26 March 1999, and that their killing was unprovoked and without any legal justification.

541. The Chamber is also satisfied that the evidence of Shyrete Berisha about seeing two of Hamdi Berisha's daughters in the pizzeria, as well as the DNA evidence identifying a number of remains as belonging to Hamdi Berisha's daughters, indicates that the other two sisters were also forced into the pizzeria on 26 March and were killed there. This is confirmed by the OMPF list of missing persons which includes all four girls. Thus, the Chamber is satisfied that Arta Berisha, Hanumusha Berisha, Merita Berisha, and Zana Berisha were all killed on 26 March 1999 in Suva Reka/Suhareka.

542. The Chamber further notes that Hysni Berisha testified that the girls' mother, Zelihe Berisha, was also killed on that day. Although Zelihe Berisha was not seen by Shyrete Berisha in the pizzeria at the time of the killing and her remains were not found in Batajnica, she has been missing since that date, at least two of her daughters were identified by Shyrete Berisha as in the pizzeria on that day, and the Chamber has found that all four of her daughters were killed at that time. Similarly, although there is no eyewitness or forensic evidence relating to Mirat Berisha, the ten year old son of Zelihe Berisha, his sweater was found in the mass grave in Prizren and he remains missing. There is no evidence to indicate that either Zelihe or Mirat Berisha may not have suffered the same fate as others in their family. On the basis of the evidence presented, the Chamber finds the only reasonable inference is that they were among the victims on 26 March 1999 in Suva Reka/Suhareka.

543. The Chamber is also satisfied, relying on the evidence of Shyrete and Hysni Berisha, as well as the DNA identification of his remains in Batajnica, that Jashar Berisha was killed on 26 March 1999 in Suva Reka/Suhareka, without any provocation or legal justification.

544. Given the paucity of evidence in relation to two of the victims in Schedule D, namely Nefije Berisha and Sait Berisha, the Chamber is not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that these two persons were killed in Suva Reka/Suhareka on 26 March 1999.




Killings in Suva Reka/Suhareka town on 26 March 1999

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