Rezallë

05. April 1999.

The village of Rezallë/Rezala is located around 7km south from the town of Skënderaj/Srbica. Based on the evidence obtained, the HLC has determined that on April 5th 1999 the members of the VJ and MUP drove the citizens of the village of Rezallë/Rezala out of their houses and then killed at least 41 Albanian civilians, 39 of whom in one mass execution. The members of the VJ covered the bodies of the murdered persons with earth. 27 out of the 41 bodies of victims who had been killed in Rezallë/Rezala were found in the mass grave at Rudnica, and 10 victims are still reported as missing.

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Mobilization and arrival of the 37th mtbr in Drenica

The first part of the 37th mtbr came to the region of Drenica in early March 1999 on the orders of the Command of the Užice Corps of the Second Army of the VJ. The document of the Pristina Corps Command of the VJ dated March 28th 1999 confirms that the 37th mtbr at that time was already conducting operations in Drenica and requires bringing the rest of the brigade to Drenica. In the document, the 37th mtbr is required to: „secure communications between Skënderaj/Srbica- Gllogoc/ Glogovac and Skënderaj/Srbica- Klinë/Klina and full combat control of the territory.“ Rezallë/Rezala village is located in the midst of the communication line – the routes of Skënderaj/Srbica – Gllogoc/ Glogovac and Skënderaj/Srbica – Klinë/Klina.

The 37th mtbr of the VJ reported on the implementation of this order in the combat report on March 30th 1999, where it is stated that the units of this brigade took control of „facilities suitable for the control of territory and roads that go from Gllogoc/Glogovac and Klinë/Klina to Skënderaj/Srbica and Mitrovicë/Kosovska Mitrovica“.

On April 1st, 1999 at 10 pm, the Command of the 37th mtbr issued a marching order, in which the 37th mtbr is instructed to occupy the area that includes Rezallë/Rezala: “Execute the march [...] to reach the marching destination in the region of Srbica [Skënderaj], deploy units around the area, with the following objective: upon completion of the march and occupation of the region [...] deliver control of the wider area of Drenica [...] Likovac [Likoc], Rezala [Rezallë]...“

It was not the entire 37th mtbr that participated in the aforementioned march, but only 12 of its units. On the following day, the commander of the PrC, Vladimir Lazarević, committed additional forces of the 37th mtbr to that area. On April 2nd 1999, the Priština Corps Command issued an order for the engagement of the 37th mtbr, which provided for the following to be carried out upon the completion of the mobilization: „by applying strong action crush and destroy the SHTF in the area as soon as possible, secure main transportation routes [Skënderaj/Srbica – Gllogoc/Glogovac and Skënderaj/Srbica – Klinë/Klina – author’s note] and secure full combat control of the territory”(see Map 1).

In the regular daily combat report of the 37th mtbr, dated April 3rd 1999, the Commander of the 37th mtbr, Ljubiša Diković, notified the Priština Corps that during the day „the reception and deployment of the rest of the mobilized forces has been executed“.

During the testimony of Ljubiša Diković in the Šainović et al. case, the Prosecutor in that case pointed out that „there is a gap of available documents from 30th of March until the 19th of April, 1999” relating to the operations of the 37th mtbr. Therefore, the Prosecutor asked Diković what his brigade was actually doing in this period: 

An excerpt from the cross-examination of Ljubiša Diković 

Diković: “Between the 30th of March and 19th of April, the focus was on the implementation of the following tasks. The remaining part, the best part of the 37th Motorised Brigade was received and deployed, and the Drenica sector was occupied. The defence sector was occupied.“ 

Prosecutor Carter (PC): „Can you please tell me when the remainder of your brigade arrived, what was the manpower available?”

Diković: „The numerical strength of my unit was about 4,500 men.”

PC: „You already had six tanks when you first came with the smaller group. Did any further tanks of heavy weaponry enter on the 2nd of April?” 

Diković: „Yes, yes, yes. That’s right. The entire brigade arrived.” [...] 

PC: „ So now you’ve indicated that until the 19th of April you were deploying and occupying that sector [Drenica]. What was happening? You were just going into your post and sitting there or were operations continuing?” 

In the answer to this question Diković vaguely told the court about how they had to secure the area from “terrorists”, and in the end he said: „we were engaging the terrorists whenever we came across them.“

Action conducted by the 37th mtbr and the MUP in Drenica on April 5th 1999

On April 4th 1999, the Commander of the 37th mtbr Ljubiša Diković issued an Order to destroy SHTF and take combat control of the territory, which engaged this brigade in a wider operation in the area including the municipalities of Skënderaj/Srbica, Gllogoc/Glogovac, Vushtrri/Vučitrn and Mitrovicë/Mitrovica, starting on April 5th 1999. More precisely, that area stretched from the village of Obrinje and the town of Gllogoc/Glogovac in the south to Vushtrri/Vučitrn and Mitrovicë/Kosovska Mitrovica in the north. The village of Rezallë/Rezala is situated (looking from south to north) on the rim of the left border of the territory where the mentioned operation was conducted. The action was to be launched at 9 a.m. on April 5th 1999.

Infantry, armor and artillery formations of the 37th mtbr, and still unidentified police formations, were engaged in this action. Of these, three infantry formations and one artillery formation of the 37th mtbr executed tasks in Rezallë/Rezala or in its immediate vicinity. 

The 2nd Motorized Battalion of the 37th mtbr was operational in Rezallë/Rezala, under the command of Dejan Ranđelović, equipped with tanks and armored vehicles. One company of this battalion, together with members of the police and with the support of artillery of the 37th mtbr was to „block, search for, smash and destroy SHTF“ in the part of Rezallë/Rezala named Delijaj mahala, in which, according to witnesses, civilians were forcibly taken from houses and brought to Hashim Derguti’s backyard, and in the end were executed (See Map 2).

Two other infantry units of the 37th mtbr operated in the immediate vicinity of Rezallë/Rezala on April 5th 1999. The 1st Motorized Battalion of the 37th mtbr led the attack on the village of Krstač located less than 500 m away from Rezallë/Rezala. The 37th Anti-aircraft Battalion was engaged in „blocking, searching for, smashing and destroying SHTF along the k660 – Dević axis“. Ground level 660 is located about 500 m away from Rezallë/Rezala, while the village of Dević is located about 1.5 km away from Rezallë/Rezala. The brigade artillery group of the 37th mtbr was positioned at a location 1.5 km away from Rezallë/ Rezala.

The fact that the 37th mtbr undertook military operations in Rezallë/Rezala on the date in question was confirmed by the members of this brigade, Majors Danilo Simonović and Goran Petrović, and Captain 1st Class, Slobodan Radenković, who stated in an interview for “Vojska” magazine that from April 3rd 1999 in the area of Drenica they conducted a number of actions against the „Albanian terrorist forces: first in the line of villages Kruševac - Devička šuma - Novo Poljance – Trstenik – Rezala – Gornje Obrinje“. In the same article, members of the 37th mtbr clarify that the operations that this unit conducted in Drenica during 1999 also implied the operations of „village cleansing“.

Furthermore, in the magazine Vojska, in the article on the operations conducted by the 37th mtbr in Drenica during 1999, it is stated that „the armored battalion under the command of Captain 1st Class Goran Jovanović entered with its steel monsters into enemy strongholds such as Likošan, Likovac, Rezala and Bradići“.

Other police and military units that were engaged in the action on April 5th 1999

According to the available documentation of the VJ, on the day in question the 37th mtbr conducted the action in Drenica in coordination with the 252nd okbr, 15th okbr, and 7th pbr, and the MUP units.

According to the orders of the Commander of the 37th mtbr and other military documents, the other three brigades - the 252nd okbr, the 15th okbr and the 7th pbr - did not conduct activities in the area of responsibility of this brigade (37th mtbr), which includes the village of Rezallë/Rezala. More precisely, the 252nd okbr and the 7th okbr conducted activities on the territory which was to the right of the area of responsibility of the 37th mtbr, and the 15th okbr conducted activities on the territory which is to the left and in front of the area of responsibility of the 37th mtbr.

Descriptions of the uniforms of the police forces that participated in the attack on Rezallë/Rezala, which were provided by witnesses, as well as the findings of the ICTY on the equipment, uniforms and positions of police forces in Kosovo, indicate that these were probably members of the Special Operations Unit (Serb.-JSO) or Special Police Units (Serb.-PJP). According to the findings of the ICTY, the scarves, masks and hats that the witnesses described were characteristic of the JSO; however, members of the PJP during 1999 often did not wear their standard uniforms, but could be identified or recognized by their advanced equipment. Likewise, the ICTY found that both formations used armored personnel carriers (APCs) and that both units conducted operations in the Drenica region during 1999. However, it is more likely that the PJP participated in the operation in Rezallë/Rezala, since the minutes of the meeting of the police leadership in Kosovo dated April 4th 1999 confirm that PJP units were engaged in the Drenica region. In addition, the commander of the 37th mtbr in his order dated April 4th 1999, describes the present MUP forces in the brigade’s area of responsibility by stating that in strength they range “from a squad to a company”, which represents the organizational structure of the PJP, not the JSO.

In addition, according to the testimony of Ljubiša Diković, the 37th mtbr was joined by 100 - 150 volunteers after April 2nd 1999.87 They were deployed within the 37th mtbr units and, according to the testimony of the commander of this brigade, they had the same status as any other member of the 37th mtbr. The Trial Chamber of the ICTY, in the judgment Šainović et al., found that the volunteers in the VJ “would sometimes wear VJ uniforms along with non-standard apparel such as hats and masks.”

According to the orders of the Commander of the 37th mtbr given on April 4th 1999, the MUP forces were deployed throughout the Municipalities of Skënderaj/Srbica and Gllogoc/Glogovac, mostly along the routes Mitrovicë/Kosovska Mitrovica - Skënderaj/Srbica and Klinë/Klina – Skënderaj/Srbica – Gllogoc/Glogovac. In the aforementioned orders, there are 15 villages mentioned where the MUP forces were stationed. The village of Rezallë/Rezala was not among them.

The 35th detachment of the PJP conducted activities in two villages (Kushtovë/Košutovo and Broboniq/Brabonjić) which are located 5 and 10km, respectively, north of Rezallë/Rezala.

The bodies of victims in the jurisdiction of the Clearing-up Squad of the 37th mtbr

The Commander of the 37th mtbr, Ljubiša Diković, issued an order for ‘clearing-up the battlefield’ on April 5th 1999 - the day of the crime in Rezallë/Rezala, or more precisely „for finding and collecting human... corpses [and] their burial“. 

In order to execute this task, and in accordance with the order issued by the Priština Corps dated March 31st, 1999, a squad was formed which, among other things, had the following responsibilities: „to collect data on where bodies of the SHTF were found, report on these locations to the Chief of MUP Srbica [Skënderaj]; upon receiving such reports, the latter, via the Chief of MUP Kosovska Mitrovica [Mitrovicë], will regulate the engagement of personnel for collection, burial, clearing up operations and the prescribed records on persons buried.“ Captain 1st Class Rade Krsmanović was appointed Commander of this Squad, and Major Hasan Čorbić was appointed his Deputy.

In the same order, the Squad for clearing-up was ordered to report to the Command of the Brigade „daily on implementation of this order during the daily briefing, and at other times as needed“. Subsequent orders issued by the Commander of the 37th mtbr confirm that Brigade Commander Ljubiša Diković was familiar with the clearing-up performed in his area of responsibility.

The order also contains one very surprising assumption of the Commander of the 37th mtbr - that all of the bodies that the Squad comes across will be the bodies of the “SHTF” although the term ‘clearing-up of the battlefield’ implies finding and burying the bodies of civilians as well as combatants. This order is especially revealing, if one takes into consideration available orders of other VJ brigades on clearing up the battlefield, for example of the 125th mtbr. According to this order, the command of the 125th mtbr does not anticipate what bodies will be found, but issues a clear task to members of the squad that they remove all dead bodies that they come across, in accordance with the instructions given.

On April 13th, 1999, the Commander of the Clearing-up Squad of the 37th mtbr, Rade Krsmanović, and his Deputy Hasan Čorbić, notified the Secretariat for Internal Affairs (SUP) in Mitrovicë/Kosovska Mitrovica „that there are 30-40 bodies in Rezala [Rezallë] village near the village cemetery that had been covered by dirt and rubble by members of the Yugoslav Army“.

Upon arrival at the scene of the crime on April 13th, 1999, the investigative judge of the District Court in Mitrovicë/Kosovska Mitrovica, Bogoljub Paunović, with the participation of officials from the SUP Mitrovicë/Kosovska Mitrovica, established that near the village cemetery in Rezallë/Rezala there was a layer of soil, and that by removing the first layer of the soil there was evidence of the presence of human bodies.

The investigative judge refused to issue an order for exhumation, but did, however, issue an order to add another layer of soil, about 80cm thick, to the existing layer of soil, since this was a gully, „insisting to the VJ officers present, Captain Krsmanović and Major Čorbić, that investigations be undertaken by the military investigative authorities“. 

In the absence of further clarification of the refusal of the investigative judge to issue an order for exhumation, it is important to note that according to the Law on the Jurisdiction of Courts, the military investigation authorities conducted investigations of crimes committed by military personnel.

What the Clearing-up Squad of the 37th mtbr did with the bodies later on is unknown. The facts as to whether this squad, or the Command of the 37th mtbr, informed the military investigative authorities also remain unknown, and if so, whether they took over the investigation regarding the bodies found in the mass grave in Rezallë/Rezala. 

During the trial in the Šainović et al. case, the ICTY Prosecution attempted to determine the further actions undertaken with regard to the bodies found in Rezallë/Rezala by examining witness 6D-2, but without results. 

On April 14th 1999, the Priština Corps Command issued a request to the MUP for the clearing-up of the area of the villages of „Gornje Obrinje, Rezala and Kraljica“. Although this request only mentions the corpses of animals, it is worthy of attention because it confirms the formal supremacy of the VJ over the MUP in the procedure of clearing-up, and it coincides with the removal of bodies from Rezallë/Rezala, as well as with the inspection of the scene undertaken by the investigative judge.

The documents of the VJ indicate that the 37th mtbr was engaged in some sort of a procedure of checking and establishing the circumstances relating to the bodies in Rezallë/Rezala. Specifically, the report of the Commission for the collection of materials on executed clear-ups of the battlefields on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija during 1998/1999 states that the VJ found 30 bodies in Rezallë/ Rezala, but that they were neither „forensically processed“ nor identified. The report notes that for these „human bodies, which had been found, it was determined with certainty that the deaths of these persons were not the result of the activity of the members of the VJ“, without clarifying how this was „determined with certainty“ or to whom the bodies were then handed over. The report leads to the conclusion that this checking was most likely performed by the Security Department of the 37th mtbr without engaging the military investigative authorities, which is contrary to the rules of the VJ.

In contrast to the data which suggest that the 37th mtbr had formal responsibility for collecting bodies in that area, as well as a direct insight into the existence of mass graves in Rezallë/Rezala, the Commander of this brigade, Ljubiša Diković, in his testimony before the ICTY in the Šainović et al. case, claimed that he had never encountered any mass graves in that area: 

Prosecutor Carter – question to witness Diković: So, even though your unit was directly involved in that area, no one from the VJ called upon you to answer for any of those operations or to provide any information when mass graves were found? 

Witness Diković – answer: Well, I don’t know which mass graves you actually mean. At the time that I was there I did not come across any mass graves, no mass graves at all. Let me repeat that. I did not come across any mass graves in that area.

Although the prosecutor asked this question primarily in relation to the operations around the village of Izbicë/Izbica at the end of March 1999, it is inconceivable that Diković is denying any knowledge of any mass graves in that region, when it is known that the Clearing-up Squad of his brigade had information about the mass grave in Rezallë/Rezala, which is located 12km away from Izbicë/Izbica.

You can find a detailed account of this crime on the following link http://www.hlc-rdc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01...