The mass grave at the main cemetery in Prizren was discovered by international forensics experts working for the United Nations in 1999, following the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo. The grave contained bodies of civilians killed in the Prizren municipality.
The Prizren municipality, located in Kosovo’s south-western corner, close to the border with Albania, had a relatively mixed ethnic population before the beginning of the war in 1999.
Many crimes were committed in the municipality during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, when Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic stepped up his repression of Kosovo Albanians.
The Tusus neighbourhood in the city of Prizren was a specific focus for crimes during that period. According to campaign group Human Rights Watch, Serbian forces killed some 27 to 34 people and burned over 100 homes in an attack on the Tusus neighbourhood on May 26, 1999.
According to witnesses, the perpetrators of the attack, the most violent incident in Prizren during the conflict, were a mixture of special police forces and paramilitaries.
Following the killings and destruction, a truck arrived to pick up the bodies of the dead. The group of people looking after the truck were said to include an ethnic Albanian driver, four Serbian civil servants, and four Roma who were charged with retrieving the bodies, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
“Their truck was full of dead bodies,” said one witness. “It was open in the back and you could see them. They were going house to house looking for bodies. They threw them in the back of the truck like sacks.”
But with the exception of the Tusus neighbourhood, the ethnic cleansing in the city of Prizren was carried out with a lesser degree of violence and fewer vicious attacks than in many other parts of Kosovo. The surrounding villages were not spared, however, and there were organised expulsions and killings of ethnic Albanians.
Those killed in the city of Prizren and the surrounding areas were buried in a number of smaller mass graves or at the central cemetery in unmarked graves.
The Yugoslav Army’s Third Army, which was responsible for Kosovo, had a barracks in Prizren, and witnesses have claimed that the army was involved in a lot of operations in the municipality, coordinating its actions with the police.
The army’s 549th Motorised Brigade, commanded by Bozidar Delic, was based in Prizren. Delic was investigated by the Serbian prosecution for war crimes, but never indicted. After the war, Delic was active in Serbian politics and served as a member of parliament before his death in 2022.