BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The family of three American citizens killed after fighting in Serbia in 1999 accused on Friday the Balkan country's authorities of failing to bring the suspects to justice despite repeated pledges to do so.
The Bytyqi brothers — Ylli, Mehmet and Agron of Brooklyn N.Y. — left their New York pizza business to fight with ethnic Albanian rebels against Serbia's rule in Kosovo. They were arrested at the end of the clashes when they strayed into central Serbia. Their bodies were discovered in a mass grave in 2001.
An open letter to top U.S. and EU officials, signed by several American and Balkan intellectuals and human rights activists, expresses regret that Serbia's war crimes prosecutions have failed to resolve the case 17 years after the murders, calling this record "dismal" and "unacceptable."
The letter said that in the Bytyqi case, "a Serbian president and the two most recent prime ministers have repeatedly promised resolution since 2006, but have failed to take adequate steps to secure this result." Instead, "reports indicate that a primary suspect has intimidated witnesses and remains close to senior members of the current government."
Asked to comment, a Serbian government official familiar with the case said, "we have intensively been working on the case." He spoke on condition of anonymity.
The three brothers were believed killed execution-style by special Serb troops on July 8, 1999 and then their bodies were thrown into a pit that already held dozens of bodies of slain ethnic Albanian civilians — an effort by former Serbian authorities to cover up mass murders during the Kosovo war.
"In the Bytyqi case, Serbian political leaders have repeatedly failed to deliver on promises made to the U.S. officials," said Praveen Madhiraju, a legal representative of the Bytyqi family. "Unfortunately, Serbia's leaders have a much better track record delivering for suspected war criminals."
Robert L. Barry, a former U.S. Ambassador and head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia, said that if Serbian leaders want to lead their country into the EU, "they must stop coddling criminals and start keeping their word."
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
This story has been corrected to show the accurate spelling of first brother's name is Ylli, not Illy.