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August 10, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 253
On the Spot: Kukurovici, Priboj Municipality

Far and Away

by Dragan Todorovic

Early this July Montene-Fax reported that Kukurovici villagers visited their homes after over three years. The report said all they saw were burned out houses and added that the police harassed them. The villagers then sent a letter to several people including presidents Lilic and Milosevic. They want to return home, compensation for the damages and equality with FRY citizens.

Residents of villages near Priboj, on the border with Bosnia, felt the war directly. Amid a mood of general uncertainty, Moslems began leaving their homes. In October 1992, 17 Moslems from Sjeverin village were kidnapped from a bus in Mioce village. In February 1993, the Strpci kidnapping took place and soon after Kukurovici was shelled.

Once they left, the Moslems could not return. Two thirds of the area around Priboj is accessible only through the Bosnian Serb Republic (RS). To prevent more abductions and prevent Moslems from returning, the RS authorities banned them from crossing through their territory. The villages were accessible from Priboj only on foot or horseback.

Many things changed in the meantime, but the position of Moslems who left Kukurovici, Sjeverin, Strmac, Dragovic, Voskovina, Socica, Jelovik stayed the same. They left and couldn’t return. The local authorities in Priboj said they weren’t competent and Serbia ignored the problem. The Moslem SDA party is trying to score political points on their misfortune.

Priboj Mayor Milic Popovic said it’s true some of the houses in those villages were burned down and robbed and added that there are no conditions for the Moslems to return home "because we don't have the funds to help them although we want to." He said UNHCR staff said they want to help financially.

The SDA said 2,060 Moslems fled the border villages. Many are abroad and 600 are in Priboj. The Red Cross registered 94 families or 264 displaced persons.

So what happened during the visit to Kukurovici? After a visit by UNHCR staff, the Moslems were given guarantees by the Priboj police that they can go see their property. Five people asked for permission and 29 went on the trip. Dzemal Halilagic, an SDA liberties committee member, said they arrived in the village at 9:00 a.m. and were told in the local police station that they can tour the village freely since patrols are on the ground. They toured the village under police escort. Halilagic said there was no problem until they gathered to return. Everyone was there except the Bolutovic brothers who had gotten drunk with some Serb neighbors. That’s when a police patrol from Priboj arrived and lined them up. They searched them, asked who allowed them to take pictures and what they had buried. There was an argument and the police went into action. Halilagic claims he was hit and his camera taken away but returned later with the film exposed. They got on a truck and went back to Priboj. Did they really throw things at Mayor Popovic’s house? "Not true, a bottle was thrown into his garden," Halilagic said quickly.

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