Thursday, August 03, 2006

Serbia's Ex-Police Commander Probed On 3 Kosovo Killings

BELGRADE (AP)--Serbia's former top police commander is being investigated for his role in the 1999 execution-style slaying of three Albanian-American fighters during the Kosovo conflict, an official said Thursday.

An ongoing investigation into the deaths of brothers Illy, Mehmet and Agron Bytyqi - three U.S. citizens of Kosovo Albanian origin - has expanded to include Gen. Vlastimir Djordjevic, who was Serbia's security chief when government forces battled ethnic Albanian separatists in the breakaway Kosovo province, prosecutor's spokesman Bruno Vekaric said.

Djordjevic - already indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Netherlands for his role in the war - is believed living in Russia where he fled after mass graves were uncovered in 2001 with the bodies of the Bytyqi brothers and hundreds of other ethnic Albanian victims of the conflict.

The Bytyqi brothers were living in New York City and working in a pizza business when they decided to leave the U.S. to fight in Kosovo Albanians' 1998- 99 separatist uprising.

They joined the Atlantic Brigade, a unit of about 400 Albanian-Americans who fought alongside fellow ethnic Albanians against Serb forces during former President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on the province's ethnic Albanian majority.

They were captured by Serbian forces and executed the same year.

The fighting ended when North Atlantic Treaty Organization air strikes forced then president Slobodan Milosevic to halt his crackdown on the separatists and hand over the province to a U.N. mission and the military alliance.

Vekaric declined to specify Djordjevic's suspected role in the slaying, but said that authorities will likely seek his extradition from Russia.

Another official said the ex-commander is believed to have personally ordered the killings of the "visiting warriors" in a telephone call to a subordinate officer who was in charge of the facility where the Bytyqis were held.

So far, three persons, including a member of an elite police unit, have been detained in the Bytyqi case but no criminal charges have been made. U.S. diplomats have urged Serbian authorities to speed up the process.

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