Thousands gathered Tuesday in the southern Kosovo village of Recak to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the mass killing of 45 ethnic Albanians by Serb forces that sparked international anger.
The killings were a major factor in NATO’s decision to launch an air campaign to end Kosovo’s 1998-99 war. The Serbian government of President Slobodan Milosevic claimed at the time that the dead were all members of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army killed in combat with state security forces. The dead included a 12-year-old boy.
Top government officials and ordinary people on Tuesday gathered at the cemetery in Recak, 32 kilometers (20 miles) south of the capital, Pristina.
Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, himself a former KLA fighter, said that the “pain, blood and sacrifice of the people are not lost.”
Twenty years on, though, Albanians are not pleased that the international community is questioning their independence fighters about alleged crimes against Serbs during and after the war.
The first one was questioned on Monday at the court in The Hague — the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office.
The European Union-funded court was set up amid U.S. and EU pressure four years after a 2011 report by the Council of Europe, the continent’s top human rights body, which catalogued allegations of widespread crimes committed by members of the KLA, including the harvesting of organs for illicit transplantations from a small number of prisoners.
“Twenty years after, they are still judging us … still accusing us,” said Limon Hajdini, 79, a local resident who lost family members in the massacre.
The war left more than 10,000 dead and 1,650 are still unaccounted. Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence isn’t recognized by Serbia.
Pristina-Belgrade relations are still tense despite the eight-year EU-facilitated talks to normalize their ties, a key step required in their moves toward integrating with the bloc.
Llazar Semini contributed from Tirana, Albania.