Three mass graves were found in the village of Cikatove e Vjeter/Staro Cikatovo after the withdrawal of Yugoslav troops and Serbian forces in 1999. International forensic experts found the remains of a total of 230 people.
Cikatove e Vjeter/Staro Cikatovo is in the municipality of Gllogoc/Glogovac, part of a hilly region of central Kosovo known as Drenica, and is located around 30 kilometres from the capital Pristina.
In 1991, Cikatove e Vjeter/Staro Cikatovo was registered as having a population of 1,300, all of them ethnic Albanians. The village is located close to the Feronikel ferronickel plant, which at times during the war from early 1998 onwards served as a base of operations for Serbian security forces against Kosovo Liberation Army insurgents who were active in the area.
At the location known as Cikatove e Vjeter/Staro Cikatovo 2, the bodies of 50 people were found buried in a mass grave near the Feronikeli plant.
The Kosovo Liberation Army was active in and around the village throughout 1998 and 1999, and for this reason, Serbian forces inflicted a fair amount of damage on the village long before NATO started its air campaign in March 1999 aimed at ending Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of repression.
At the end of April 1999 and the beginning of May, Serbian forces surrounded villages in the area and separated men from women and children. The men were held in a mosque in Drenas before being taken away.
According to the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre, 44 men were loaded onto a military truck, which then stopped near pits dug for mining purposes for the Feronikeli factory in the village of Cikatove e Vjeter/Staro Cikatovo.
On the orders of a Serbian special police officer known as ‘Commander’, the other special police force members and several soldiers lined up the captured ethnic Albanians on the edge of one of the pits, and simultaneously fired shots at them, shooting continuously until 43 of the men fell into the pit.
One man who had been killed earlier on the truck was dumped onto the pile into the pit, according to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY’s verdict in the subsequent trial of six Yugoslav and Serbian army and police officials.
Serbian forces then threw several hand grenades into the pit. Behar Topilla, who was among the first to fall into the pit, survived the massacre. After he regained consciousness and made sure the immediate danger was over, Topilla managed to pull himself from beneath the bodies in the pit, according to the Humanitarian Law Centre.
Human Rights Watch visited Cikatove e Vjeter/Staro Cikatovo on June 25, 1999 after Serbian forces withdrew from Kosovo and found that between 40 and 50 per cent of the village had been badly damaged. Most houses had been burned from the inside, which indicates that they were specifically targeted rather than damaged by combat. Several buildings had also been demolished by bulldozers.
The killings in the area formed part of the trial at the ICTY of the former Yugoslav government official Nikola Sainovic and four other political and military leaders, Dragoljub Ojdanovic, Nebojsa Pavkovic, Vladimir Lazarevic and Sreten Lukic, who were found guilty.
In 2014, the Humanitarian Law Centre filed a criminal complaint accusing former Yugoslav Army 37th Motorised Brigade commander Dikovic of bearing responsibility for wartime crimes. Dikovic has insisted he is not guilty and the Serbian prosecution has not indicted him.