The commander of the 549th MtBr, Delić, issued the ‘Order on destroying STS in the general area of Retimlje, lifting the blockade on the Suva Reka – Orahovac road and establishing the control of the territory’ on March 23rd, 1999. The order contains the following instruction to the units: ‘Forces to seal off territory: Parts of the poz.b. [logistics battalion], čv. had bardPVO /expansion unknown/ shall seal off the following line: tt. 357, the village of Trnje, the lake, the Mistra feature at tt. 330, the village of Smać, tt. 316, the village of Donja Srbica’.
In their testimonies in the Milošević and Milutinović et al. cases, soldiers from the Logistics Battalion of the 549th MtBr, K-32 [K-54]137 and K-41 [K-82]138 described the attack by the VJ on the village of Trnje/ Ternje which commenced on March 25th, 1999, and in which they participated. Pavle Gavrilović, the then commander of the Logistics Battalion, challenged the statements given by witnesses K-32 and K-41 in their testimonies in the Milutinović et al. case.
According to the testimonies of K-32 and K-41, some 80 to 100 soldiers from the Logistics Battalion arrived in trucks at around 04:00 on March 25th to the hill above Trnje/Ternje, on the southern side of the village. Officers from the Logistics Battalion were also there – the Battalion Commander, Captain Pavle Gavrilović, his deputy, Sergeant Gligorević (first name unknown), and Lieutenant Dragiša Jaćimović, who were in charge of their platoons, Sergeant Rajko Kozlina and Staff Sergeant Muhamed Fejzić. According to the statement given by witness K-42, which was corroborated by the statement given by witness K-32, soon Gavrilović “pointed his hand in the direction of Trnje/Ternje and said that ‘no one should be left alive here today’ and later once they had understood the order given to them, they headed towards us. Our sergeant turned towards us. He told us to assemble our company…” After this the village was shelled for twenty minutes with the anti-aircraft guns of the Logistics Battalion and during this time the villagers ran from their houses and ran away from the village in the direction of the Lešanska River/Lumi i Leshanit.
After the shelling, soldiers from the Logistics Battalion launched an infantry attack on the village during which they killed villagers and set their houses on fire. The group consisting of members of the Logistics Battalion Technical Company, including witness K-32 and witness K-41, killed at least 24 Albanians in this village. Almost all of the killings were committed on the order and with participation of Sergeant Kozlina, who committed some of the murders alone. During the launching of the operation and during the operation itself, Kozlina repeated Commander Gavrilović’s order several times – that there must be no survivors in that village on that day. When private Milošević [the first name unknown], refused to execute Sergeant Kozlina’s order to kill an Albanian old man as they forced him out of his house, Kozlina killed the old man by knocking him onthe ground with the butt of his rifle and then fired a burst at his head, reprimanding Private Milošević and saying: “This is how you should do it.”
Members of Serb forces executed 16 Kosovo Albanians in M.G. courtyard. Witnesses K-41 and I.G, who survived the execution, testified about this event, noting that Kozlina and witness K-41, together with three or four unidentified soldiers from the group led by Kozlina, found 18 Kosovo Albanians, who were hiding in Musli Gashi’s house. They forced them from the house by beating them and threatening them with the use of guns and, on the orders of Sergeant Kozlina, they fired a coordinated bust of gunfire from immediate vicinity killing 16 civilians. Two persons were seriously wounded: I. G. sustained gunshot wounds to the head and N.B. was shot in the arm. They survived the execution because the executed members of their families fell on top of their bodies.
In the trial in the Milošević case, K-41 described another mass execution in the village of Trnje/Ternje committed on March 25th, 1999 by members of his unit; “We went on across the bridge… we went along the river and some 200 to 300 metres from the bridge there was a group of people who had escaped from the village and found shelter by the river… there were some 30 to 40 people there. One of the soldiers said that they should all be killed, but Lieutenant Jaćimović, who was there at that moment, started begging for women and children to the released, which they did. The women and children were released, along with one man who was disabled, I remember that he had no legs. They were released, but four or five men remained and they were executed.”144 Eye-witness to the execution, F.K. also testified about this event: “In the early morning hours of March 25th, 1999, we came out of the basement and headed towards the bank of the Leštanska River/Lumi i Leshanit river. Soldiers came to the bank of the river around seven o’clock in the morning and stood next to a huge willow tree. Then they separated the men: M.K., R.R., Sh.G. and H. G.. They ordered us to go back home and they detained these men and, as soon as we went towards the village as we were ordered, they killed them. I saw it with my own eyes.
Members of Serb forces also executed a number of Kosovo Albanians at other spots in the village of Trnje/Ternje on March 25th, 1999.
During the following days, members of Serb forces ejected the surviving villagers. On an unidentified day, most likely in the evening of March 30th, 1999, members of the Logistics Battalion transported and buried the bodies of several killed women in concealed mass-grave sites on the territory of Dragaš/Dragash in the direction of the Albanian border. Pavle Gavrilović and Sergeants Rajko Kozlina and Milan Nedeljković, directly managed the mission of collecting the bodies of the killed, loading them, transporting and burying them in concealed grave sites.
During the month of July 1999, in the village of Brezna/Brezne, in the municipality of Dragaš/Dragash, one grave site was located and the bodies of six persons, four women and two men, were exhumed and identified.
The bodies of 20 Kosovo Albanians who were killed in the village of Trnje/Ternje on March 25th, 1999 have yet to be found and they are registered as missing on the ICRC’s list of the missing.
* 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.