The United States has barred from entering the country a Serbian national who officials say they suspect of ordering the 1999 murder of three Hampton Bays men in the aftermath of the bloody war in Kosovo.
State Department officials this week issued the sanction on Goran Radosavljevic, a former general in the Serbian army. U.S. authorities said they had gathered credible evidence implicating him in the execution of Agron, Mehmet and Ylli Bytyqi of Hampton Bays.
“The Department is publicly designating Goran Radosavljevic of Serbia . . . due to his involvement in gross violations of human rights,” the State Department online statement said in barring Radosavljevic, his wife and daughter from entering the United States. “Radosavljevic was credibly implicated in the 1999 murder of the Bytyqi brothers, three Albanian-American brothers killed in Serbia after the Kosovo War.”
The development was the latest sign for the Bytyqi family, which still lives in Hampton Bays, that justice was still within reach.
"What makes President Vucic think that we will give up?" said Ilir Bytyqi, referring to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who the family said is a political ally of Radosavljevic. "What makes him think that the United States will forget that the Serbian government tortured and murdered my three brothers? I want to thank Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo and the State Department for taking this initial step to show that the Trump administration will not allow my brothers' murders to be swept under the rug."
The Albanian-American brothers joined some 400 others in April 1999 to take up arms against Serbian forces killing ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo.
A few weeks after the official end of the war, which lasted from 1998 to 1999, the Bytyqi brothers accidentally crossed from Kosovo into Serbian territory while escorting an ethnic Romani family to Kosovo’s border with Serbia, and were captured, according to media and government reports.
They were jailed until July 8, 1999, when a judge ordered their release. Instead of being freed, though, the brothers were taken to a special operations training facility commanded by Radosavljevic and executed — shot dead and dumped into a mass grave of ethnic Albanians, where their bodies were discovered in 2001, according to the reports.
“Their hands tied with wire, their heads covered by black hoods, the three young American men lay at the top of a heap of bodies in a pit in the Yugoslav National Forest near the Serbian town of Petrovo Selo,” read a Radio Free Europe report when the bodies were found.
Ylli was 25, Agron was 23, and Mehmet was 21.
"President Vucic is willing to sacrifice the future of the Serbian people for war criminals," said Praveen Madhiraju, a Washington-based adviser to the family. "He protects a war criminal responsible for the murders of three American citizens and much more at a time when Serbia is trying to prove itself a reforming country. Today, the United States sent an initial signal that it will neither forget his promises nor stand for his double talk."
Despite pressure from U.S. officials calling for justice on behalf of their constituents, no one has yet been charged or convicted in connection with the alleged murders. The case has been highlighted by human rights groups and the victims’ family has lobbied Congress for support and action.
The sanction against Radosavljevic comes nearly 20 years after the killings that have haunted the Bytyqi family.
“I applaud Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for recognizing the Serbian government’s involvement in the execution-style murders of brothers Ylli, Agron and Mehmet of Hampton Bays,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in a statement. “In July of 1999, these three brothers went overseas towards the end of the Kosovo war and were arrested by Serbian authorities for illegally entering the country when they accidentally crossed into Serbian-controlled territory.”
He continued: “The brothers were kidnapped, murdered, and dumped into a mass grave in Serbia by government officials still serving today. The Bytyqi brothers gave their lives to fight injustice; now, finally, the United States is providing their family with a small semblance of justice for these heinous murders.”
Zeldin sponsored a resolution on behalf of the Bytyqi brothers that passed in the Foreign Services committee of the U.S. House of Representatives last summer.
State Department officials could not be reached for comment Friday.
“I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision to sanction Goran Radosavljevic and bar him and his immediate family from the United States,” said Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, chairman of the Helsinki Commission, which fosters U.S.-European cooperation. “Congress has given the executive branch the tools to impose serious consequences on those implicated in corruption or serious human rights abuses abroad, and I am encouraged by the administration’s use of these tools to defend and advance U.S. interests.”