Milosevic police chief jailed for 27 years over Kosovo massacres

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The Independent Online

The former head of Serbia's police force was jailed for 27 years yesterday for war crimes, crimes against humanity and the murders of at least 724 civilians in Kosovo 12 years ago. Dressed in dark blue suit and white shirt, Vlastimir Djordjevic remained emotionless as the presiding judge, Kevin Parker, passed sentence at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

The court was told that Djordjevic had "participated in the joint criminal enterprise" led by the then Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, and his closest aides. Judge Parker added that the ex-police chief, 62, intended to "change the ethnic balance of Kosovo and ensure Serbian dominance in the territory".

Djordjevic, who also served the Milosevic government as the assistant internal affairs minister, was tried for the deportation in March 1999 of more than 200,000 ethnic Albanians by Serbian police, which coincided with the start of the Nato bombing campaign against Serbia.

"The true number [of expelled] might never be known," the judge said, adding that Djordjevic did nothing to prevent the deportations of mostly civilians to neighbouring Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. The expulsions were followed by looting, burning of villages and the killings of women, children and the elderly, the court found.

In one massacre, two days after the Nato campaign began, Serb forces herded 114 men and boys into a barn, including a disabled man whose wheelchair was used to block one of the exits. Serb forces then riddled the barn with bullets from automatic weapons before setting it alight.

In another case, 45 members of the same family were killed after they tried to hide in a café. "Police threw hand grenades inside the cafe and then opened fire on them [as they tried to escape]," Judge Parker said in his verdict.

"In the large majority of cases, the victims, including many women and children, were civilians who were unarmed and not in any way participating in any form of armed conflict."

Djordjevic was also found guilty of playing a central role in trying to conceal war crimes and atrocities perpetrated against civilians by Serb forces.

In one incident, he ordered almost 900 corpses to be moved 400km in refrigerated trucks.

The bodies were then reburied at a police training centre in Batajnica, near Belgrade, in an attempt to hide them from Western observers. The dead were unearthed and identified in 2001 after the Milosevic regime collaped.

Djordjevic evaded justice for eight years. When arrested in Montenegro in 2007 he had grown long hair and was posing as a construction worker.