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. The remains of 180 of those people were found in the two largest graves in the village, located next to each other; one contained 68 bodies and the other 112.
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.
Before 1998, when the conflict in Kosovo escalated, the Drenica region was inhabited mostly by Kosovo Albanians. Drenica is considered to be the birthplace of the Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla force. It was also the scene of some of the worst wartime atrocities committed against civilians.
In 2021, the Kosovo authorities inaugurated a memorial complex by the roadside at the entrance to the village, where there are also graves of civilians killed in the village in 1999. Some of the bodies buried there were found just after the war in various locations in the village, but others were only repatriated in 2015 when a mass grave of Kosovo Albanian war victims was discovered in the Raska area of Serbia.
At the end of the war, when Serbian forces started withdrawing from Kosovo, they also carried out a large-scale cover-up operation to remove and hide the bodies of ethnic Albanians from areas in Kosovo where the death toll was highest. At least 1,000 bodies were removed and then reburied in secondary and primary grave sites in Serbia.
According to the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre, the killings and the subsequent cover-up took place in the area of responsibility of the Yugoslav Army’s 37th Motorised Brigade, led by commander Ljubisa Dikovic, who later became the head of the Serbian Army. Dikovic has denied any links with the crimes.
The 37th Motorised Brigade was stationed in Kosovo from March 7, 1999 until the arrival of international forces on June 11, 1999. According to the Humanitarian Law Centre, during this period, alone or in conjunction with other Yugoslav army units, the brigade under Dikovic’s command provided planning and weapons support to Yugoslav and Serbian forces that committed a number of mass killings of Albanian civilians, acts of rape, looting and destruction of property. The village of Cikatove e Vjeter/Staro Cikatovo was attacked on a number of occasions.
In the early morning of April 17, 1999, Serbian forces surrounded the village, randomly shelling civilian homes and buildings with artillery, tanks, mortars and other weapons, then entered the village around 6am. In groups of three to five, troops and police raided houses, beat, abused, humiliated and brutally intimidated families in the village, seeking money, jewellery and other valuables, according to the Humanitarian Law Centre. Several people were seriously injured and others were killed in their homes, in front of their family members or neighbours.
Another deadly attack took place some ten days later. On April 30, 1999 at around 5am, heavily armed Serbian forces surrounded and randomly shelled dozens of villages in the municipalities of Gllogoc/Glogovac and Skenderaj/Srbica. Albanian residents from these villages left their homes in panic, seeking refuge in nearby forests and mountains.
Women, children, the elderly and others who were unable to leave the village of Cikatove e Vjeter/Staro Cikatovo gathered in the local elementary school or hid in the basements of village houses. Serbian forces drove them out of the village and continued to search for those who had fled into the forests and mountains. Many who were discovered were killed or seriously wounded, either where they were found or while being transported to another location.
The killings in this area formed part of the trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY of 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 37th Motorised Brigade commander Dikovic of bearing responsibility for wartime crimes. The Serbian prosecution has not indicted Dikovic, however.