Attack on Orahovac
Part of the Kosovo War
Date17–20 July 1998
(3 days)
Result Yugoslav victory
Kosovo Liberation Army  FR Yugoslavia
Commanders and leaders
Agim Çela  Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Božidar Delić
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Stojan Konjikovac
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Veljko Radenović
Units involved

"Black Eagles" Unit

  • “121 Kumanovo” Brigade
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Prizren SUP
Unknown 500
Casualties and losses
8 KLA killed[1] 2 Yugoslav police killed
Aftermaths of the battle consisted of 79 executions of Albanian civilians, 5 Serb civilian deaths and 85 abductions of Serb civilians in which 40 got killed.

The attack on Orahovac was a 3-day long clash Between 17 and 20 July 1998 and was fought between the forces of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the FR Yugoslavia. The KLA surrounded Serb villages intending to assert authority for the Kosovo Albanian provisional government through taking over a town and creating a corridor between KLA hotbed in Drenica and the Albanian border region. 8 KLA fighters and two Yugoslav police officers were killed, as well as five Serb civilians during the attack, while 85 Serb civilians were abducted by the KLA, 40 of whom are presumed to have been murdered. During the takeover of the town by Serbian special police, 79 Albanians civilians were executed.


Between 17 and 20 July 1998 there was an armed conflict in Orahovac in western Kosovo between the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the Yugoslav police and army.[2] This was KLA's first attack on a city.[3] Up until then the KLA had fought only in villages where it enjoyed strong support of locals.[4] In late June, after setting up roadblocks around urban centres, the KLA controlled over 50% of Kosovo territory.[5] The Yugoslav authorities concentrated on guarding the cities and towns and their communication links instead of attempting to counter the spreading of KLA.[5] In order to assert authority for the Kosovo Albanian provisional government, the KLA needed to capture a town, and accordingly attacked Orahovac.[5] It was very thoroughly prepared.[4] There were no Yugoslav troops in Orahovac, while the population was 80% Albanian.[4] The KLA had in the preceding days deployed troops in nearby villages from their base at Mališevo.[4] Some took the situation seriously, the mayor having spoke to daily Politika Ekspres about expecting a "major terrorist attack".[4] Many locals had their women and children evacuated before the attack.[4] The takeover would give the KLA major strategic advantage as it would form a corridor between Drenica (the KLA hotbed) and the Yugoslav–Albanian border region in the southwest.[4][a]

The attack began on Friday, 17 July, with simultaneous attacks on the town's strategic objects (police headquarters, post office, hospital and hotel).[4] The fighting was most intense on 18 July.[6] The KLA abducted 85 ethnic Serbs during the offensive.[3] 8 KLA fighters and two police officers were killed. 5 Serb civilians were killed in Orahovac during the attack,[6] while another 40 of the abducted are presumed to have been murdered.

On July 18, 1998, Serbian special police forces from the Prizren station arrived in Rahovec. The following day, on July 19, they conducted operations in the town, targeting houses of Albanian residents in search of weapons. During these operations, they discharged firearms, threw hand grenades into basements, looted properties, and set houses on fire. At the same time, members of the 549th motorized brigade bombarded the city from the Landovicë and Rogovë villages. These actions continued until July 22, 1998, when the police regained control of Rahovec. However, it was reported that during this period, 79 Albanian civilians were executed in various locations, including their homes, streets, workplaces, and other areas. Following the executions, the police instructed municipal structures to bury the victims in a location known as the "Garbage pit."[7]

Relatives of murdered Serb abductees from villages Opteruša and Retimlje.

Simultaneously with the attack, the KLA attacked neighbouring Serb villages.[2] Serb civilians were expelled from villages Opteruša and Retimlje.[6] With light artillery and machine guns, the KLA attacked for 45 minutes the Zočište Monastery where thirty elderly Serbs had taken shelter, together with seven monks and a nun, and damaged the communal house with two grenades.[3] Local Serbs told HRW that the monks resisted with four rifles for two hours before giving up.[3] The KLA took everyone in the monastery to a school in nearby Semetište.[3] Of the abducted Serbs, 35 were subsequently released on 22 July, and another ten on the night of 29–30 July.[3] The fate of the other estimated forty abductees was unknown as of 2001.[3] In 2005 remains of 47 victims were excavated in two mass graves in Klina and Mališevo.[6]

The KLA had been decisively defeated, with considerable losses.[8] They were later pushed out across Mališevo.[8]

Journalists were allowed into the town on 22 July, reporting that 15 buildings had been destroyed, most of the population had left and homes and shops had been looted.[4]

Aftermath and legacy

In response of the KLA offensive on Orahovac, a major offensive with armor and air support forced the KLA into the hills and abandon their territory.[5] Tens of thousands of Albanians, together with KLA fighters, fled the military onslaught which devastated their villages.[5] In April of 1999, Romani witnesses claimed the Serbian forces killed around 50 Albanian civilians, including women, children, and elderly.[9] Serbian forces executed 79 Albanian civilians when they regained control of the area. The bodies of the Albanian civilians were buried in a "garbage pit". Serbian colonel Božidar Filić claimed all of those buried in the pit were terrorists. This was however disproven later as some bodies were identified. One such case was that of Sabrije Mullabazi, a 90 year old woman executed by Serbian forces in her own backyard.[7]

Of Orahovac's pre-war 5,200 Serb inhabitants, as of 2012 only 500 remain.[6] In late 1998, Albanian extremists killed over 60 Serbs from the Serb villages in the area.[10] The Zočište Monastery was destroyed on 13–14 September 1999. All of Zočište's 300 Serbs that lived there in June 1999 have left the village and their property seized by Albanians.[10] Today, only three Serbian Orthodox monks remain, at the monastery.[10] The return of 200 Serbs to 44 renovated houses in Zočište was stopped by the local Albanians some years ago.[10] In Retimlje, Serbs' houses and lands are illegally used by Albanians, if not destroyed and abandoned, while the Orthodox church and graveyard are destroyed, a parking lot built at the place of the church.[11] When a local Serb asked international organizations and the Office for Kosovo and Metohija (Serbian: Kancelarija za KiM) if there were plans on renovating houses in Retimlje and Opteruša in order for Serbs to return, it was said that there were no plans and that it was very risky.[11] As of 2017, there is no Serb community in Zočište, Opteruša, Retimlje, Smać, Zojić, Mala Kruša, Donja Srbica and Gornja Srbica.[10] A Serb enclave exists in Velika Hoča.

A total of 950 people died or went missing in the municipality during the war. Of which 826 of those were Albanians, 87 were Serbs, 23 were Ashkali, 9 were Roma, 3 were Montenegrin, 1 was a Turk and 1 was a Bosniak.[7]

A religious memorial service for the victims was held at the St. Prokopije Church in Belgrade in 2012.[6] The Orahovac case was investigated by the ICTY but no charges were filed.[6] It was then handed over to the UNMIK, and then EULEX, after which an investigation was launched in September 2010 that led to the arrest of two Kosovo Albanians in April 2011.[6] The arrested however stand on trial for expelling non-Albanian civilians from Orahovac, and not killing civilians.[6] A statue was built honoring Xhelal Hajda Toni and Selajdin Mullabazi Mici.


  1. ^
    The KLA's strategical aim was to put the area on both sides of the Peć–Dečani–Đakovica road, along with the Albanian border, under their control in order to receive men and arms. They also sought to create a corridor on the Orahovac–Jablanica–Klina line in order to connect with formations in Drenica and also across Prizren with Opolje and Gora towards the Albanian border. They intended to control the whole of Metohija.[8]


  1. ^ "Thaçi: Beteja e Rahovecit ndër betejat më të mëdha të UÇK-së". Kallxo. 19 July 2020. Retrieved 10 January 2022.
  2. ^ a b Čupić 2006, p. 277.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Krieger 2001, p. 109.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i TOL 1998-07-25.
  5. ^ a b c d e Pavkovic 2000, p. 191.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i BI 2012-07-19.
  7. ^ a b c "So called garbage pit" (PDF). Humanitarian law center.
  8. ^ a b c Novosti 2002-10-29.
  9. ^ "Erasing History: Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo". 1999. Members of a group of Roma who arrived at the Albanian border on April 8 claimed that they were expelled because Serbian authorities said that they were originally from Albania and were not "true" Kosovars. The group also reported that Serbian forces killed some 50 ethnic Albanians, including women, children, and the elderly.
  10. ^ a b c d e "Монаси једини Срби у Зочишту". Politika.
  11. ^ a b B92 2017-11-02.


News articles