By Vesna Peric Zimonjic in Belgrade
Published: 27 October 2005
Nine Serbian policemen have been arrested for killing 48 ethnic Albanian civilians in 1999 in the town of Suva Reka in Kosovo.
The bodies of the victims, all members of one family, were found in a mass grave at the police compound of Batajnica near the Serbian capital, Belgrade, in 2001. The grave contained the remains of more than 1,000 bodies of ethnic Albanians.
"As far as we know, 48 people were killed in Suva Reka," a spokesman for the war crimes prosecution office, Bruno Vekaric, said. "Fourteen were below the age of 15, one was a pregnant woman aged 24 and one was a very old woman," he added.
The killings of members of the Berisha family happened on 26 March 1999, in a pizzeria in Suva Reka, two days after Nato air raids against Serbia began.
According to the testimony of a survivor, Vjollca Berisha, Serb policemen rounded up people there, allegedly searching for weapons. Then they fired into the crowd with automatic rifles.
Mrs Berisha's two children, aged seven months and two years, died in the massacre. She and her remaining son survived, pretending to be dead.
The arrests of the nine policemen yesterday are the first since the gruesome discovery of the remains more than 180 miles (300km) from Kosovo.
The executions of possibly around 10,000 ethnic Albanian civilians, the transporting of bodies and clandestine burials in Serbia in 1999 was one of the best-kept secrets of the regime of the former leader Slobodan Milosevic. Freezer trucks were used in the operations, aimed at covering up the atrocities against non-Serbs in the rebellious southern province.
Milosevic loyalists have hampered judicial efforts to deal with war crimes. This was confirmed by the fact that six of those detained were on active duty until their arrest.