The Joint Command for Kosovo and Metohija issued the ‘Order for assistance to MUP [Ministry of the Interior] forces in crushing and destroying STS [Shiptar Terrorist Forces] in the Orahovac, Suva Reka, and V. Kruša area’ on March 23rd, 1999 to the units of the Priština Corps in which the task of the 549th motorized brigade (MtBr) was described in the following manner ‘in a joint action with the VJ and MUP carry out an all-out attack from the all-round support point in the direction of the villages of Bela Crkva, Mala Hoča, Velika Kruša’
On the basis of this order of the Joint Command, the commander of the 549th MtBr, Božidar Delić, issued the ‘Order on destroying STS in the wider area of the village of Retimlje, lifting the blockade of the Suva Reka-Orahovac road and establishing the control of the territory’ on March 23rd, 1999 in which he issued an order to Combat Group 2 to cooperate with the 4th Company of the Đakovica Special Police Units ‘and undertake an energetic attack to search the village of Bela Crkva, and end up at the Brnjača line.
Delić and the Commander of the 2nd Motorized Battalion, Vlatko Vuković, alleged in their testimonies given in the Sainovic et al. case that they passed through Bela Crkva / Bellacёrkё on March 25th, 1999 with their troops but that the VJ did not carry out any operations in the village at that time. In his testimony given in the Milosević case, Delić stated, “My unit was in Bela Crkva/Bellacёrkё on March 25th only. After this it continued operations in other directions. I passed through Bela Crkva/Bellacёrkё on the following days as well… through to April 4th.” When asked by Milošević: “Did you notice any changes during these following days or anything happening in Bela Crkva/Bellacёrkё?”, Delić said: “As far as I am concerned, it was completely normal, just like the first day, I didn’t notice anything.
However, in the war diary of the 2nd motorized battalion of the 549th MtBr, a note for the day of March 25th, reads: ‘The villages of Bela Crkva, Celina, Nogovac, and a part of V. Kruša were blocked and cleansed.’ Vuković added that the VJ did not search the villages since it had already been done by the 23rd Detachment of the Special Police Units from Đakovica and said that he was convinced that no murders of Kosovo Albanians were committed in Bela Crkva/Bellacёrkё because he was in the area at that time.
In the ‘Analysis of operations of the 549th MtBr on the destruction of STS in the wider area of Retimlje and lifting the blockade of the Suva Reka – Orahovac road’, dated March 30th, 1999, it is alleged that a ‘fierce breakthrough of forces of the 23rd Detachment of the Special Police Units from the direction of Bela Crkva and Brnjača towards the villages of Celina and M. Hoča was carried out’.
The village of Bela Crkva/Bellacёrkё, now called Fortesё, the municipality of Orahovac/Rahovec, is located in the vicinity of the Prizren – Đakovica/Gjakovë main road.
According to the description provided by citizens of the village, I. Z. and S.P., at around 03:30 hours on March 25th, 1999, members of Serb forces accompanied by tanks entered the village. Half an hour later, they opened fire shooting above the roofs of houses, which Z. interpreted as a warning sent to the villagers to leave the village, which they did. Several hundred villagers from Bela Crkva/Bellacёrkё, including a great number of juveniles, ran away and hid in a number of concealed locations in the bed of the Belaja/Lumi i Bellajes stream.
Later the same morning, while he was still hidden by the Belaja/Lumi i Bellajes stream, S.P. heard bursts of gunfire coming from downstream in the direction of the asphalt road. From the location where he was hiding, some 120 meters closer, S. P. saw a group of police officers approach a group of 13 Kosovo Albanian civilians that he knew. He heard police officers shouting, “We will fuck your mother” and “Ask NATO for help now”. Then they opened fire with automatic weapons at those people. Five members of the Z. family and seven members of the S. family were killed. Four-year-old S.Z. survived the execution. At around 09:00, a number of members of Serb forces found and surrounded the Kosovo Albanians who were hiding by the Belaja/Lumi i Bellajes stream. They found another larger group of people under the railway bridge over the Belaja/Lumi i Bellajes stream, which connects the village of Zrze/Xerxhe and Prizren towards the village of Rogovo/Rogove, in the vicinity of the Prizren - Đakovica/Gjakovë main road. They made them strip to their underwear. They forcibly separated men from women and children. They beat them and stole their money, jewellry and watches. They confiscated personal identification documents from all of them and tore them up.The leader among the police officers told the women and children to walk along the railroad in the direction of Zrze/Xerxhe. According to I.Z.: “…one of the men in uniform hit S. P. (18) and knocked him down… Then he stepped on him and held him to the ground. N. P. reacted and said, “let go of the boy, it is not his fault…” That same moment, one of the men in uniform, who was pretty big and tall, and had a characteristic jaw, in his thirties, fired a burst from his automatic rifle, first killing Doctor N. P. and then S.P. Immediately we all lay down next to the canal but the gunfire did not stop. Some tried to run, but they were killed immediately. I did not move, however. A bullet scratched me in the upper part of my right hand. As I was lying down bleeding, the bodies of three killed men fell over me. After the burst of gunfire stopped and after a small pause, I heard several individual shots. I could not see who was doing this or why, but I assumed they were shooting at the dead to make sure no one stayed alive by any chance.”
That same day, around 11:00 hours, two women, F.P. and Z.P, went to the stream where men from their village had been detained. According to F.P. after they were convinced that there were no Serb soldiers by the stream any more, they “went closer and we saw a great number of killed people, but there were some who were wounded. Then we immediately returned to Zrze/Xrxe and told this to some of the women from our village and then we went back to this place together with A.K., N., N. P. and F. Z. and took the wounded away. In this place I saw around 70 men and two of my sons who were killed – S. and A., as well as my brothers-in-law N. and N. P., while my brother-in-law’s son, A. P. was wounded. Then we took the wounded, A. P., H. P., D.and J. Z., F.P. and S. P. and placed them on A.K.’s tractor and took them to Zrze/Xrxe. I saw my sons S. and A. in this place and they were killed and I was not able to move them.”
* The description of the crime is based on testimonies of
survivors, eyewitnesses and victims' family members given to the Humanitarian
Law Center, national courts or the International Criminal Tribunal for the
former Yugoslavia (ICTY); forensic reports; judgments and transcripts of trials;
media reports and other documents.