The Brekoc/Brekovac gravesite, where 121 bodies were found in 1999 after the war ended, is located within the city cemetery in Gjakova/Djakovica and is considered to be one of the largest wartime gravesites in Kosovo.
Gjakova/Djakovica, some 90 kilometres south-west of Pristina, suffered a lot during the war – the city was almost razed to the ground, while the ethnic Albanian population was either killed or expelled. The city is located close to the Albanian border, which made it strategically important for both the Kosovo Liberation Army and Yugoslav forces.
The violence in Djakovica was well organised, according to campaign group Human Rights Watch. Although some killings took place almost every day, the large-scale violence and destruction occurred in distinct phases and appeared to be coordinated by Serbian security forces. Human Rights Watch’s report said that prominent residents of the city, such as lawyers, doctors and political activists, appeared to have been targeted for murder.
Today the location remains unmarked and, as it is part of the city cemetery, after the war the city authorities used the remaining land for other graves unrelated to the war.
Those who were buried at Brekoc/Brekovac site were killed during an operation by Serbian forces called ‘Reka’ (‘River’) at the end of April and beginning of May 1999. It involved at least ten Serbian police and Yugoslav Army units that killed and expelled thousands of people in the area around Gjakova/Djakovica and the villages of Meja and Korenica.
According to verdicts handed down by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY in cases against Serbian military and police officials, during the attacks on Meja and Korenica, the Yugoslav Army, Serbian police and paramilitary units killed at least 377 civilians, of whom 36 were under 18 years old.
Thousands were expelled to neighbouring Albania, and 13 people are still listed as missing.
The attack on villages Meja and Korenica came a month after the start of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, which was aimed at ending President Slobodan Milosevic’s military campaign in Kosovo. As NATO’s air strikes intensified, so did Serbian army and police operations, and the killings and expulsions of Kosovo Albanians.
Yugoslav forces entered Meja and Korenica with tanks, forced the ethnic Albanian civilians from their houses, took their money and separated men from women.
Most of the men were killed, while the women and children were sent to Albania.
Human Rights Watch visited Meja on June 15 1999, after NATO entered Kosovo, and saw the decomposing remains of several men, burned documents and personal possessions that apparently belonged to the men who had been killed there, as well as spent bullet casings.
Human Rights Watch also found the decomposed remains of several men. The bodies were on the edge of a field next to the road that runs through Meja. One intact body and the top half of another were located on the side of a ravine adjacent to the field. Another two bodies were found a few metres away, and the bottom half of another body in a field near the ravine. All of the bodies were in an advanced state of decay. The bones of some of the bodies were broken, and they all appeared to be headless. Pieces of a skull were found next to one of the bodies.
Closer to the road, the Human Rights Watch saw three large piles of straw and cow manure, which a villager claimed covered many more bodies. The villager also stated that the bodies of most of the men killed in the massacre had been collected by municipal service workers, which was later confirmed by the ICTY.
Some of the bodies of the people killed in this area were initially buried at the Brekoc/Brekovac cemetery, while some were transported to Belgrade as part of a cover-up operation and buried at a police compound in Batajnica near Belgrade.
A protected witness told the ICTY trial of former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic that he had worked as an excavator operator and took part in the excavation of bodies in three different locations in the Gjakova/Djakovica area – Brekoc/Brekovac, the Bistrazhin/Bistrazin bridge and the village of Guska, as well as the forest nearby.
The ICTY convicted six senior Serbian officials of being responsible for the killings.
Analysis of the ICTY evidence by BIRN revealed that more than 30 people were involved in or knew about the killings – one of the biggest massacres of the Kosovo war – and did not do anything to stop it or act to punish those who committed crimes.
Despite the evidence that exists, none of them have ever been prosecuted for the massacres in Meja and Korenica. All of them are still free and live in Serbia, Montenegro or Slovenia.