On a hilltop between the Kosovo villages of Qirez/Cirez and Likoshan/Likosane, a memorial has been erected to commemorate the ethnic Albanians who were killed in March 1999 and found after the war in a number of mass graves in the surrounding area. The remains of 96 victims have been identified.
The surrounding region, flanked by the Drenica mountains to the west, consists of the municipalities of Gllogoc/Glogovac and Skenderaj/Srbica. Prior to 1998 when the conflict in Kosovo started, both municipalities had almost entirely ethnic Albanian populations. The villages that surround the two towns are the birthplace of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which began armed operations in Drenica in 1996. They are also the scene of some of the worst abuses committed against civilians in 1999, as documented by a number of human rights organisations and later confirmed at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY in its trial of six Yugoslav and Serbian state, army and police officials.
According to the ICTY indictment, beginning on or about March 25, 1999, Yugoslav and Serbian forces shelled and burned the villages of Vojnike/Vocnjak, Lecine/Leocina, Klladernice/Kladernica, Turicec/Turicevac and Izbice/Izbica. Many of the houses, shops and mosques were destroyed, including the mosque in the centre of the village of Cirez/Qirez.
In groups of two or three, soldiers went from house to house in the villages, forcing their way in and, threatening residents with death, demanding money and valuables, according to the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre NGO.
Some women and children were taken away by members of Yugoslav forces and held in a barn in Cirez/Qirez. The women were subjected to sexual assault and their money and property were stolen.
The soldiers threatened to kill them all, together with their children, took away their identity papers, money and jewellery, and then two soldiers led them to a barn and locked them in. According to testimonies gathered by the Humanitarian Law Centre, soldiers several times took girls and younger women, some of whom were in advanced stages of pregnancy (between four and eight months), out of the barn and forced each of them to have intercourse and also exploited and abused them sexually in other ways.
The ICTY confirmed in its verdict that at least eight of the women were killed after being sexually assaulted, and their bodies were thrown into three wells in the village of Qirez/Cirez.
Yugoslav and Serbian forces rounded up around 4,500 ethnic Albanians from the surrounding villages, took their money and documents, and separated the men from the women. The women were mostly expelled to Albania, while large groups of men were killed. Some of the bodies were found later in the mass graves in the village, others in mass graves in Serbia.
The killings in Qirez/Cirez formed part of the trial in The Hague 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 by the ICTY.
The Humanitarian Law Centre also filed a criminal complaint against the former head of Serbian Army, Ljubisa Dikovic, who, during the Kosovo war, was commander of the 37th Motorised Brigade of the Yugoslav army, alleging that his units committed crimes in villages in the Drenica area. Dikovic has insisted he is not guilty.