08 December 2006

Missing? The real question is: Why?

APIS GROUP, Belgrade, October 27, 2006 By Danijela Slavnic


Are the cases of missing persons in Kosovo science fiction or consciously closed files?


Unexpectedly for many Kosovo crisis observers, proliferation of terrorism and violence resulted with huge number of cases of missing and kidnapped civilians, mostly non-Albanians (especially Serbs): in the summer of 1998, spring 1999 and during 2000. Actually, last reported kidnappings occurred in 2004. Although such acts of terror were well known to local population and local authorities, eccentric doubts could be summarized with only one question: If victims were held in hidden prisons and if after some time they were executed, where are the bodies?


Searches, investigations, intelligence and identifications took more then 6 years for many international and local authorities who worked on missing person's cases, but still there are many unanswered questions concerning the fate of missing. There are still discrepancies between the figures: number of reported missing person's cases doesn't match with number of recovered and identified NN bodies in Kosovo. This is the factual condition regardless on the missing person's nationalities, but utmost divergence is with so called non-Albanian cases. The real question is: why?


Recently published story concerning the fate of two Serbian missing soldiers in Kosovo, who were secretly and illegally held in US Army prison in Germany, brought the missing person's issue to the scope of public again. Sadly, this problem was almost forgotten.


Speaking about treatment and approach to this issue by the local and international authorities, we may see that missing person's issue was politically hindered. It is not so surprising if this concerns some foreign policies and institutions, but it is odd when this comes to local authorities, especially for some in Serbia proper.


At the very beginning, families of missing person's and other people offered lot of information that indicated existence of civil, foreign military and local illegal detentions region wide: in Republic Albania, FRY Macedonia, Federation B&H but in Europe too. Such information were treated as unreliable and were never seriously checked - which was intentional informational handling whose aim was to prevent from any professional investigations. Somebody's plan was to leave aside known and unknown prisons in Kosovo (and region-wide) from police inquiries.


Constant obstacles and underestimations stroke any serious attempt to look after some missing people at designated places. Simply, real searches and operations were impossible. Even in several exceptions, there were no enough courage and will of certain individuals who rather looked into their careers, profit and local politicians then the professional and human values of their duty. It seemed that human lives don't worth much in the Kosovo's gloomy ghetto.


In 2000 some people who were reported missing in 1999, managed to escape illegal prison in Tropoja (small town nearby Serbian and Albanian border). The "case" was managed in deep silence by KFOR. The same happened with some missing person's who were kidnapped in 2000 and managed to escape illegal detention center that was located in northern-east Kosovo in 2001. Again, the case was the mystery. In addition, we could recall many cases from 1998 and at least 10 KLA's illegal detentions that re-operated after international forces arrival to Kosovo, such as in Jablanica, Musutiste, Drenovac, Pakastica, Junik, Milosevo, Kacanik, Stimlje and many other places throughout Kosovo. Lack of real operational cooperation and activities between Serbian and international security forces resulted in minor results concerning recovery of dead, but not alive victims of kidnappings - although there were a number of possibilities to find somebody alive. However, this never happened. If any person would manage to survive illegal detention, that was because of his/her escape or release by kidnappers - it never happened that international police, KFOR, ICRC, local police or local authorities succeeded to find and release kidnapped and missing people. Bearing this in mind, we can only think about how is this possible? Are the all "professionals" indeed incapable or they are somehow prevented from doing their job?


Families of missing are well introduced with this situation and they have reasonable doubts - to trust no one. More specific situation gain more suffer and efforts for the families of missing soldiers, volunteers and policeman's, who are confronted with more bureaucracy, rules, roughness of systems and opinionated international and local players. Comparing to other cases, local military and police systems were not provided with prompt equipment, budget and human resources to deal with these cases at the right way. Especially military representatives were played down - by own political establishment and international authorities on the other side. Each attempt to use official intelligence channels, Interpol, European high-levels of ICRC and designated contacts in other countries simply have failed. Sometimes there was no will to initiate such scope of work, but sometimes such attempts were stopped. In several cases operations to raid suspected facilities were intentionally prolonged - once in took almost 30 days, which was too late even for the traces. Under regular circumstances, raids would be done immediately.


Finally, according to some recent experience we shouldn't be in shock if in the future there will be more cases of missing person's sudden appearance. Regretfully, we might hope for only small number of "lucky" individuals who somehow managed to survive years of torture and secret imprisonment - or there will be no more survivors to witness horrible and inhumane scenes. But the most horrifying and bizarre is the fact that all of that would never happened if the authorities of all sides involved did their job responsibly, professionally, humanly, fairly, incalculable and fearlessly.


The author is pre-graduate from the Faculty of Security in Belgrade