BELGRADE, Serbia -- Decomposing corpses were dumped into a trash-filled ditch. Blindfolded and hands bound, three Albanian-Americans were led to its edge and shot in the head, their bodies joining the others.
The details, emerging for the first time at the trial of two former Serbian commandos, shed light on how the regime of Serbia's late president, Slobodan Milosevic, tried to conceal atrocities against ethnic Albanians in the 1998-99 Kosovo war.
Thousands were killed in the Serbian crackdown against Kosovo separatists during the period. When NATO launched air strikes to stop the carnage, hundreds of bodies of Kosovars were dug up and moved to three locations in central Serbia, where they were reburied in mass graves to cover up the killings.
The commandos have been charged as accomplices in the murder of brothers Illy, Mehmet, and Agron Bytyqi -- three US citizens who had left New York to fight in Kosovo and were captured by the Serbs.
The bodies of the Bytyqi brothers were discovered in 2001. Their identities were later confirmed by an FBI forensics team.
"One day, a truck carrying some 30 corpses appeared in our camp," Radomir Djeric, a former commander of a special police training facility in Petrovo Selo, some 60 miles east of Belgrade, said at the trial Wednesday.
His testimony for the prosecution was closed to the public but minutes were made available to The Associated Press.
Djeric said he thought a large ditch had been dug to be used as a garbage disposal for the camp.
But when the truckload of corpses arrived from Kosovo, Djeric said he felt "manipulated and foolish" because the garbage-filled pit was primarily intended as a mass grave.
"The decomposing bodies were unloaded from the truck by men wearing gas masks to keep out the stench," Djeric said.
The indictment against the former commandos, Sreten Popovic and Milos Stojanovic, says the Bytyqi brothers were found in a mass grave atop 70 corpses dumped there earlier.
"They were positioned next to each other, with a cloth over their face and hands bound with wire," Bosko Radojkovic, a forensic specialist who exhumed the mass grave, said at the trial yesterday.
The three Albanian-Americans had left New York in 1999 to join the so-called Atlantic Brigade, which fought Serb forces in Kosovo. They were arrested close to the Serbia-Kosovo boundary in July 1999, days after the Kosovo hostilities ended.