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Serbian PM Promises 'Justice' In 1999 Slaying Of U.S. Brothers

People pay their last respects in February 2002 to the three Bytyqi brothers -- Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet -- who were found the previous June in a grave with more than 70 other Kosovo Albanians in Serbia's Petrovo Selo.
People pay their last respects in February 2002 to the three Bytyqi brothers -- Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet -- who were found the previous June in a grave with more than 70 other Kosovo Albanians in Serbia's Petrovo Selo.

WASHINGTON -- Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic promised to deliver "justice" in the case of three U.S. citizens whose bodies were discovered in a mass grave in eastern Serbia in 2001 after they went to Kosovo to fight alongside ethnic Albanian rebels against Belgrade’s rule.

Vucic said on June 4 that Serbia "will do its job" to bring resolution to the 1999 slaying of Albanian-American brothers Illy, Mehmet, and Agron Bytyqi, a case that has remained a sticking point in U.S.-Serbian ties as Belgrade pushes for greater integration with the West.

"We’ll deliver on that issue, not because it’s a huge bilateral issue for us and [the] U.S., or a big stumbling block in front of us, but because that would be a very just solution," Vucic said following a prepared speech in Washington.

"Don't worry, we'll resolve it, and I think that it's our job, it's our duty to do it,” Vucic said, adding that a resolution "would happen very soon or much sooner than anybody might expect."

The Bytyqi were all in their 20s when they traveled to Kosovo from New York in 1999 to join Kosovo rebels fighting the forces of then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

They were arrested after crossing an administrative border into Serbia on June 23, 1999, two weeks after hostilities in the Kosovo War had ended. They were later shot dead execution-style while in the custody of a special Serbian police unit.

Less than a year after Milosevic's ouster in October 2000, the brothers' remains were discovered in a mass grave on the site of a special-police-unit base in the village of Petrovo Selo in eastern Serbia.

No one has been convicted in connection with the slaying of the Chicago-born brothers. In 2012, a Serbian war crime court acquitted two former policemen of involvement in their deaths, citing insufficient evidence to convict.

U.S. officials have continued to pressure Belgrade over the case, including during talks with Vucic this week that also addressed Serbia's EU aspirations and reducing its reliance on Russian gas, which the West accuses Moscow of using to exert political pressure throughout Europe.

A State Department official told RFE/RL that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken "pressed for resolution of the Bytyqi brothers case" during a June 4 meeting with the Serbian prime minister.

U.S. Representative Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, told RFE/RL that he and Vucic discussed the case during a "very productive meeting" on June 4.

"The prime minister and I covered a wide range of shared concerns, including the murder of the three Bytyqi brothers in Serbia," Engel said in an e-mailed comment. "I look forward to seeing justice for this American family that's waited nearly two decades for closure."

Engel is a co-sponsor of a new resolution introduced in the House last week calling for those responsible for the Bytyqi brothers' deaths to be brought to justice, and for Serbian authorities' progress in the case to "remain a significant factor" in Belgrade's ties with Washington.

Fatos Bytyqi, a brother of the slain men, has accused Goran Radosavljevic, a former senior Serbian police official who served as a commander at the camp where the three men were held, of ordering their killings.

Radosavljevic, a political ally of Vucic, has denied involvement in the slayings.

Fatos Bytyqi told RFE/RL’s Balkan Service this week that the case can be solved once Vucic gives the "green light."

"Authorities in Serbia know who the murderers of my brothers are," he said.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, AP, AFP, and
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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.