Update from Vranjske on the Mačkatica case

The local Vranjske novine is running an article that provides a little more detail on the story that first emerged in an article by Nataša Kandić in the 24 December issue of Danas, where she gave details of the burning of corpses from Kosovo in the "Mačkatica" factory in Surdulica. In the article, Ms Kandić charged that:

"...the burning of corpses in the Mačkatica factory took place in two phases, on the 16th and 24th of May 1999, after midnight, with security provided by the Red Berets, who at the time had a base in the village Bele near Vranje. Milorad Luković Legija, who was then the commander of the Red Berets, according to our information personally accompanied one delivery of corpses and was present during the burning. The bodies were burned in incinerators 4 and 5. The deliveries of the corpses and their burning were carried out by Zoran Stošić, who was then head of State Security for the district of Pčinj, Bratislav Milenković, the head of the Security Intelligence agency (BIA) for Vladičin Han and Surdulica, Dragan Stanković, head of the local police in Surdulica from 1993, Miroslav Antić, head of the BIA in Vranje, Dragan Lakićević, the director of the Mačkatica factory, and his assistant, Aca Đorđević."

Perhaps the charge that received the most attention was that the project of destroying evidence of crimes against humanity was coordinated by Dragomir Tomić, president of the "Simpo" furniture factory and minister for all purposes during the Milošević period. Mr Tomić immediately responded with a statement denying all charges: "Dragomir Tomić was never acquainted with with any facts connected to the events mentioned or any similar ones, if they happened, nor did he ever have any information about them." Dragan Lakićević issued a similar denial.

Official responses have been slow. The special prosecutor for war crimes, Vladimir Vukčević, has promised an investigation, while justice minister Zoran Stojković gave only evasive responses.

Ms Kandić notes that the public has been more responsive than institutions have on the matter: "I would say that in comparison to institutions, the public is less silent. It seems to me that there is a part of the public that is shocked, which considers that this is just one of the horrific things that testifies to the dark pogrom that the former regime carried out here. With regard to the institutions, there are still people there who want to cover it all up, who want the past not to be mentioned, that there should only be mention of Serbian victims, and that crimes, burnings and the destruction of evidence of crimes against others should never be mentioned. I would say that there is a serious blockade which makes it difficult to gather information, and that it is difficult to encourage ordinary people to speak about it, because they are still under threat, because they are afraid and they see that the same people who were in power then are still in power now."

One indication might be suggested by the statement of district prosecutor Milan Božinović on the investigation that his office carried out: "We requested a detailed report from State Security and from Public Security, and we got a report that said that in our area there was neither evidence nor any trace of graves or of any possible burning. After we got two such reports, completely independent of one another, there was no longer any basis to develop an indictment, and the information was given to the state prosecutor."

Vranjske novine's reporter Saša Stojković observes one detail that may be telling: "It is suggestive for the whole story that so far nobody has taken any action against Ms Kandić herself. Because if she were lying, the machinery of the 'patriotic judiciary' would have to come into action and move against her. There has been no such reaction, and Nataša Kandić herself does not expect any charges to be filed against her, 'for the simple reason that I am speaking the truth'."

Time will tell whether the special prosecutor for war crimes files charges. There are similar potential cases, of which the best known is the recovery of a freezer truck with corpses from the Danube river near Tekija.

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