New eyewitnesses are helping to piece together a crime that still
By IWPR reporters in Surdulica and Belgrade
Eyewitness accounts obtained by IWPR contain dramatic new evidence of
how police working for Slobodan Milosevic burned truckloads of ethnic
Albanian corpses in a factory in southern Serbia during the 1999 NATO
IWPR sources have presented fresh testimony on the chronology of the
crime, the way it unfolded and the key role played by the police in
both the burnings and the cover-up that followed.
Their accounts will increase pressure on the courts to resolve the
mystery surrounding who these people were and who ordered their
Natasa Kandic, director of the Humanitarian Law Centre, HLC, first
revealed the grisly secrets of the Mackatica aluminum complex, near
Surdulica, in the Pcinj district of southern Serbia, last December.
In an article in daily Danas newspaper on December 24, 2004, she said
the factory's blast furnaces were used to burn the bodies of Albanians
killed in Kosovo on May 16 and May 24, 1999 - during the NATO
An IWPR source - a shift worker in the factory - says the whole affair
started with the unexpected arrival at night of a number of unknown
"Trucks with mysterious freight kept entering the factory with their
lights off. Third-shift workers, like myself, were sent home at the
factory entrance," the source said.
The IWPR source confirmed seeing the bodies arrive on two separate
occasions, "at the middle and end of May" in 1999.
"No one told us what was being transported and none of the workers had
access [to the place of burning]," he told IWPR. "But I know many
people who took part in it and saw some of it myself.
"Direct participants confirmed to me what I had seen. Bodies were
brought to the factory and burned there. I was not the only one who
"I was not present at the very act of the burning of the bodies but I
could see the trucks being unloaded.?
A second IWPR source, whose status and occupation we cannot disclose,
confirmed the shift worker's version of events, saying he also
witnessed the bodies being unloaded. This source added that the bodies
were transported from western Kosovo, mainly from Prizren, Djakovica
and Pec, and surrounding villages.
"When the trucks left [after the burning] so-called 'cleaners' took
over and checked whether any body parts or their personal belongings
had fallen onto the tarmac by the entrance to the plant,? he said.
"For days afterwards, you could smell burned flesh in Surdulica. I
know what this smell is like, as I have been on all the battlefronts
in [the former] Yugoslavia."
This second source said Mackatica was chosen as a site because it was
close to Kosovo, only around 170 kilometres from Prizren, and was
relatively anonymous - few people few people outside the factory even
knew it had blast furnaces.
Kandic's Danas article said both incinerations took place around
midnight under tight security provided by the police's Special
Operations Unit, JSO, then based at Bele Vode, near Vranje, in
It said the then JSO commander, Milorad ?Legija? Ulemek, now the prime
suspect for the 2003 murder of Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic,
escorted one convoy of bodies to the site and was present as they were
burned in "furnaces numbers four and five".
According to the HLC, top police officials - some of whom are still at
their posts - organised the burnings, while other trusted Milosevic
officials organised the subsequent "cleansing of the terrain".
NEW INFORMATION ON ROLE OF MILOSEVIC?S POLICE IN THE CRIME
A third IWPR source, a former inspector in Milosevic's secret police,
was active at the time of the events at Mackatica, and has assured
IWPR that the police possess "precise and systematised information" on
how the bodies were burned at Mackatica.
"There is clear data on this in local police archives, marked
'strictly confidential'," this source said, referring to the two
"The people who participated in the whole action were staying at the
Theranda Hotel in Prizren. Such a job had been prepared for a long
time and could not be completed in a day or two.
"The local public and secret police know everything but this is being
concealed also because current as well as former police officials and
ordinary operatives were involved.
"Everything is contained in the police documentation - from the code
name of the action to the list of people who stayed at the Theranda
Hotel and worked on the 'sanitation of the terrain', to those who
loaded the trucks and drove them to the Mackatica factory, where
Legija and his team took over the whole thing.
"It is also known exactly who drove and who escorted the trucks with
the bodies, who was in charge of covering up the action at the factory
itself and who directly handled the furnaces during the burning."
"The names of those who were later in charge of eliminating the traces
at the factory and those whose job it was to conceal the truth from
the local public are also known. Finally, there is a list of
politicians who were familiar with all of this, when the action was
The former police officer claimed he knew most of these names himself
but was fearful of divulging them publicly.
Along with all those who possessed direct knowledge of the burnings,
he had encountered strong pressure to keep quiet.
"All those in any way connected to the events at Mackatica in May 1999
are being exposed to threats, pressures and blackmail," he said.
"I fear for my safety and for that of my family," he said. "The
participants in the crime in Mackatica would know it was me who
revealed the secrets, which they are doing their utmost to hide."
IWPR's first source, the shift worker at Mackatica, says several other
witnesses who saw the trucks with bodies entering the factory are
still out there.
"Other people know what was done, although everything was done for the
operation to be carried out in the utmost secrecy," he said.
They were all subject to threats and blackmail, he added, to prevent
the story from getting further out. In spite of that, this source said
he was ready to testify in public. IWPR has also spoken to a fourth
direct source on the events at Mackatica. This source did not want
either his residence or job divulged but insisted he was present at
both burnings in May 1999.
"Everything took place after midnight, but I remember there was a
clear sky and moonlight," he said. "I saw, for a few minutes and from
a distance of about ten metres, bodies being unloaded from a truck and
transported in a large factory push-cart to the part of the factory
where the furnaces are located."
This source said he "knew for sure" that some of the bodies were or
women and children. He insisted he did not participate in the burning.
None of IWPR's sources was able to estimate the exact number of bodies
unloaded and burned at Mackatica, though one said they had been
transported in "more than ten trucks," which suggests a large number.
THE LIST OF NAMES BEHIND THE BURNINGS
In her article in Danas, Kandic cited several of Milosevic's most
trusted associates as key figures behind the operation. She named
ex-police minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic; a former deputy prime minister
Nikola Sainovic; the then head of the public and state security
Vlastimir ?Rodja? Djordjevic, and Radomir Markovic, former chief of
Sainovic, charged by the Hague war crimes tribunal for crimes
committed in Kosovo in 1999, voluntarily surrendered to the
authorities in spring 2003. He was released in mid-April 2005 pending
Markovic is currently in jail in Belgrade's central prison, facing
criminal proceedings. Stojiljkovic, also on The Hague's list of
persons indicted for crimes in Kosovo, committed suicide on April 11,
Among all the names Kandic mentioned, the most interesting was that of
Djordjevic. One of four generals wanted by the Hague tribunal for war
crimes in Kosovo in 1999, he was born in Koznica, only miles from
Djordjevic is known to have been a key figure in the area whose word
was virtually law. He kept all the local power structures, especially
the police, under his control.
After the Milosevic regime fell on October 5, 2000, Djordjevic
reportedly fled the country and is believed to be hiding in Russia.
THE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR STARTS TO INVESTIGATE
For several months, after the publication of the groundbreaking
article in Danas, neither the authorities nor the courts in Serbia
reacted publicly to any of the grave claims that it revealed.
However, in mid-April 2005, Vladimir Vukcevic, the special state
prosecutor for war crimes, visited Surdulica.
Acting on Vukcevic's request, the investigating judge of the district
court in Vranje, the deputy special prosecutor and a team of specially
trained court experts also visited Mackatica.
Vukcevic told B-92 radio he had talked to witnesses, but stressed that
most things were still in the stage of "complete secrecy, owing to the
serious nature of the procedure". The prosecution was awaiting the
result of forensic reports, he said.
Detailing the extent of the investigation thus far, he added, "The
blast furnaces at the Mackatica complex were inspected, as were the
places where waste is deposited." He underlined that only experts'
findings would confirm whether traces of human remains were in the
Vukcevic did not conceal the fact that his decision to personally
oversee the process implied a lack of confidence in the ability and
willingness of the local police to investigate the case.
He also said he regretted that a special police unit had not yet been
set up to investigate such war crimes and help the prosecution team.
An IWPR source close to the police in the Pcinj district confirmed
that the special war crimes prosecutor's initial field work in
Mackatica had upset members of the local police force.
"The police of the Pcinj district still operates according to the same
principles and mostly with the same people as it did in 1999," this
IWPR has also learned that the case would never have come to light at
all if one former and one active operative from the Security and
Information Agency, BIA - successor to the State Security, DB - had
not sent Kandic the evidence.
Zoran Stosic, head of the regional DB at the time of the Mackatica
case, was dismissed just over a month ago as general inspector of
police in Pcinj district and replaced by Vujica Velickovic, also a key
figure in the regional police over the past decade. IWPR's third
source, the former secret police inspector, reiterated that local
police records contained exact data on the entire affair. "All it
takes is political will for it to be disclosed," he said.
A WALL OF SILENCE IN SURDULICA
Surdulica is a small town of around 10,000 people, some ten km from
the motorway that runs from Belgrade to Skopje. It is less than an
hour's drive either to Bulgaria, or to Macedonia and Kosovo.
People in Surdulica whom IWPR interviewed either did not want to speak
about the body burnings, or defended them. No one denies something
happened, but in the town itself, where the hard-line nationalist
Serbian Radical Party is in power, there is a conspiracy of silence.
In the cafe in the centre of town, a large piece of graffiti proclaims
"Serbia for the Serbs".
"So what if they did burn Shiptars [a derogatory name for Albanians]??
one man said. "They deserved nothing better. Why don't you write about
the crimes against Serbs in Kosmet [a Serb nationalist expression for
A shop saleswoman was more conciliatory. "Hardly anyone dares to speak
publicly about it," was all that she would say on the grim events in
the nearby factory.
But the arrival in Surdulica of the special state prosecutor for war
crimes suggests that however much the local population wants to a draw
a veil over the affair, the judicial authorities are determined to
confront this painful issue.
Whether justice will ever be done for what happened at Mackatica
remains to be seen.
Bruno Vekaric, spokesperson for the war crimes prosecutor, said it
would not be easy. The facts that the crimes were committed long ago
and that the police and justice ministry were far from cooperative
were just some of the obstacles they faced, he told IWPR.