Former KLA members arrested in Preševo

PREŠEVO -- The Interior Ministry (MUP) has arrested 10 former KLA members in Preševo on charges of war crimes committed against civilians in Gnjilane, Kosovo.

MUP Gendarmes bring one of the arrested ex-KLA members to the MUP HQ in Belgrade (Tanjug)
MUP Gendarmes bring one of the arrested ex-KLA members to the MUP HQ in Belgrade (Tanjug)

The suspects were transferred to MUP HQ in central Belgrade at 16:09 CET, and were led into the building one by one, in the presence of numerous reporters.

More photos from in front of MUP HQ

Nine of the former KLA members were taken into the building, while a tenth remains in police custody in Vranje, pending further investigation.

Interior Minister Ivica Dačić and the War Crimes Prosecution confirmed for B92 that the operation began early this morning and is related to crimes against Serb and non-Albanian civilians in Gnjilane in 1999.

Dačić was at the scene and says that the operation was progressing smoothly.

"On the basis of a criminal complaint and on a warrant issued bz War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukčević, MUP members have arrested a number of people, members of the so-called KLA Gniljane Group on suspicion of perpetrating crimes against the civilian population, Serbs and non-Albanians, in Gniljane in 1999," said the minister.

Those arrested include Nazif Hasani, Ahmet Hasani, Faton Hajdari, Samet Hajdari, Ferat Hajdari, Kamber Sahiti, Agush Memishi, Burim Gazliju and Selimon Sadiki.

They will processed by the War Crimes Prosecution, though Fatmir Sahiti will remain in the custody of the Prosecution in Preševo.

"Ten people have been taken into custody. I should point out that the leaders of the group are Fazlia Aydari, Rexhep Aliji and Shaqip Shaqiri, who are currently outside this region. They are currently out of the reach of our authorities and live in Gniljane," added Dačić.

War Crimes Prosecution spokesman Bruno Vekarić told B92 earlier today that it was still too early to say how many individuals had been arrested as the operation was still under way.

"We're looking here at the arrest of a significant number of individuals, members of the so-called Gnjilane Group of the Kosovo Liberation Army suspected of kidnapping 159 Serb civilians and killing at least 51 between June-October 1999. What stands out in these cases is that these crimes were perpetrated in a particularly cruel manner, in three locations in Gniljane," he said.

"What's especially interesting are the locations, the school that prisoners were taken to and where they were tortured in the grossest possible manner. It's hard to describe the atrocities that took place there as I don't believe it's in keeping with any media ethics," said the spokesman.

The KLA members are accused of violating the provisions of international and national law, murder, rape, imprisonment, torture and looting in an effort to remove Serbs and non-Albanians from the territory of the municipality of Gnjilane, an earlier statement from the prosecution read.

"What's also important is the identities of those members of the Gniljane Group. These were chiefly people from outside Kosovo and Gniljane. In order not to come into conflict with their neighbors, they brought in people from outside to commit these crimes," Vekarić said.

The crimes were allegedly committed in three locations in Gnjilane after the withdrawal of Serbian troops and police from Kosovo. The arrests were conducted with help from security service officials and was planned for several months because of the high level of risked involved and the fact that almost all of the suspects were armed, the statement concludes.

The crime

The crime in Gnjilane against local Serbs and other non-Albanians took place after NATO troops, KFOR, arrived in Kosovo in the wake of the 1999 war.

The suspects arrested today were members of the so-called Gnjilane Group, tasked with cleansing the remaining Serbs from that area of the province.

Many of the victims were killed in a boarding school in the town. They were first taken there, stripped naked, tied up, severely beaten and stabbed with knives. Parts of their bodies were cut off before they were viciously murdered.

Several of the victims died after their killers checked "how many bodies a single bullet can go through". The victims' bodies were then dismembered and taken to different locations in order to hide the crime.

The Gnjilane Group had some 100 members from southern areas of central Serbia, and from Macedonia.

The group operated as part of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA – an armed group of ethnic Albanians set up in the mid 1990s which Serbia designated a terrorist organization.