BELGRADE, Serbia — The family of three American citizens slain after fighting in Serbia in 1999 on Monday accused the Balkan country's authorities of refusing to bring the killers to justice despite repeated pledges to do so.
The Bytyqi brothers, Ylli, Mehmet and Agron, 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 in 1999 when they strayed into central Serbia. Their bodies were discovered in a mass grave in eastern Serbia in 2001.
In a statement issued on the 19th anniversary of the killing, the Bytyqi family said that President Aleksandar Vucic has repeatedly promised American officials that Serbia would solve the case, which has burdened relations between the two states.
They said Vucic has made "bold promises, only to defend the very person he told us was responsible for the Bytyqi murders."
The Bytyqi family has said that all evidence their legal team has collected points to the main suspect being former Police Gen. Goran Radosavljevic, known as Guri, who was the commander of the special police base where the bodies of the brothers were discovered. He is now a close party associate of Vucic.
"Serbia is again becoming known for protecting war criminals," the statement said. "President Aleksandar's Vucic's continued fealty toward Goran 'Guri' Radosavljevic is a major reason why."
There was no immediate reaction from Vucic, but Radosavljevic has denied involvement, saying he was on a hunting trip when the Bytyqi brothers were killed.
The bodies of the brothers were thrown into a pit that already held dozens of corpses of slain ethnic Albanian civilians — an effort by former Serbian authorities to cover up mass murders during the 1998-99 Kosovo war. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
"There is perhaps no greater shame than deceiving parents about their murdered children," the statement said. "We have fought these injustices for 19 years. We will continue to do so for as long as it takes."