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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    WED, 05 JUN 1996 21:31:37 GMT

    Consequences of Elisabeth Rehn's visit to Priboj Villages Inhabited by Muslims

    TORTURE OF WITNESSES

    After United Nations special envoy for human rights, Elisabeth Rehn and investigator of the Humanitarian Law Fund, Antonella Riha had visited some villages around Piboj - on the border between FRY and B&H - and talked to the Muslims there, inhabitants of these villages, paticipants in these talks and witnesses of the talks, according to testimonies of the villagers themselves, were subjected to real torure.

    AIM Priboj, May 27, 1996

    "I don't know how this will be interpreted, but believe me it is true - whenever an international organization or joiurnalists visit us - real torture begins for us... My cap off to Mrs. Rehn, I thank her for the visit and efforts they are making to help us, but I'm afraid that only the God almighty can help us". With these words, on Sunday, May 26, 1996, our collocutor, a Muslim from village Zaostro near Priboj (at the three-border point of Serbia, Monrenegro and B&H) commented on the "effects" of the recent visit to this and couple other villages of the special rapporteur for human rights of the United Nations, Elisabeth Rehn and an investigator of the Fund for Humanitarian Law, Antonella Riha.

    In the beginning of May this year, as part of the investigation of the situation concerning human rights in the former Yugoslav space, Mrs. Rehn visited municipalities Prijepolje and Priboj and on the occasion toured the villages of Sjeverin and Kukurovice near Priboj - which due to the specific geographic position of communications - can be reached only via the territory controlled by the Serb entity within integral B&H. After her return to Priboj, Mrs. Ren talked with families and relatives of the Muslims kidnapped from the train in station Strpci and a bus in the place called Mioce (on October 22, 1992) in the Republic of Srpska.

    Three days later, Antonella Riha, Ekrem Hadzic, president of the humanitarian society "Zaman" from Novi Pazar, Smajo Polimac, secretary of SDA Sandzak, Rasim Ljajic, president of SDA Sandzak and Cornelia Sobray, an employee of the British Embassay in Belgrade, toured villages of Zaostro, Zabrnjica and Sastavke and talked with the local Muslims on living conditions and problems concerning them.

    At a press conference in Priboj, Mrs. Rehn declared that this was the first time she had encountered the problems of the Muslims, inhabitants of the mentioned villages, and also the problems of Muslims who had emigrated from these places after October 22, 1992. UN special rapporteur for human rights referred especially to the fact that she had just become aware that the Muslims from ten odd villages around Priboj had no freedom of movement, i.e. that they did not dare travel down the main road between Priboj and Sjeverin which passes with two thirds of its length accross the territory of the Republic of Srpska, but "must travel by a roundabout, longer road, on foot", as she stressed. In the conclusion of the press conference, Mrs. Rehn said that she was planning several actions in order to investigate and illuminate the mentioned problems.

    "Ten days after the visit of Mrs. Rehn and five days after our tour of the three villages, people started coming into the headquarters of the SDA in Priboj telling us about police torture", says Smajo Polimac, President of the Party od Democratic Action (SDA). "We have several statements of people who were questioned by the police in an extremely brutal manner, demanding from them to reveal the contents of the conversations they had had with the delegations which had visited them. Everything that is happening over there, as you can easily see for yourself, is nothing else but state politics, state terrorism, with the ultimate goal of ethnic cleansing. Those people over there know a lot, they know what was happenening especially in 1992 and 1993 and state agencies wish to intimidate them in order to conceal the crimes which were committed in these villages the victims of which were the Muslims."

    The public both in Serbia and outside Serbia and Montenegro, as Mr Polimac concludes, must also be aware of it.

    "Honestly speaking, I don't expect the domestic public to condemn the mentioned crimes and everything that was happening to the Muslims in these villages, especially not the two ruling parties, the SPS and JUL, but after all, these people don't need the support of the public, they just need freedom which they have been deprived of since 1992", he adds.

    One should know that about 300 Muslims lived before the war in the villages of Zaostro, Zabrnjica and Sastavci. A few months after the war had broken out, together with about 2,200 Muslims from neighbouring villages, most of them left their homes running away - as they said at the time and as they still say - from Seselj's supporters, "White Eagles" and other armies and para-military units which set on fire and plundered everything that was Muslim. Mostly old people remained in the villages. They do not dare travel down the road from Sjevern to Priboj which is about 25 kilometre long, because it partly leads through the territory of the Republic of Srpska. One of the reasons for their fear is kidnapping of 17 Muslims from Sjeverin which occurred in October 1992 and has not been resolved since. They are forced to take roundabout roads which are up to 50 kilometre long, through the mountain and the forest, in order to reach the municipal centre - Priboj. The local Serbs and occasionally their relatives who come on foot from Priboj assist them mostly by purchasing food, drugs and other essentials.

    Our interlocutor from the beginning of the text says that he knows not how, but he survived "all this folly".

    "Everything that I am telling you, I am ready to say to the Minister of teh Serb police, Mr Sokolovic, and even to President Milosevic himself. But, until they come over here, don't mention my my full name", Ekrem warns and continues:

    "Before the war I lived in Zaostra with my mother, father, wife and three children, two brothers and their families. Since October 1992, only my father Hajro and mother Vasvija remained there. My mother is bed-ridden and my father is 65 and can hardly move about. The rest of us were forced to leave the village and here we are - I am living in a rented apartment, one brother is living in Germany, the other one in Mostar. I alone am left to take care of my parents, to buy food for them out of my salary which is 65 dinars, and after walking for eight hours in one direction, take it to them to the village. It was peaceful in these villages in the past few months. I spent 20 days in the village in April, and during all that time I haven't seen a single policemen. The local Serbs and the Muslims were in good relations, they helped each other. However, after the visit of the humanitarians and the politicians, great confusion was created over there. Police patrols from the police station in the village of Kukurovici occupied the village and started an incessant interrogation which lasts day and night. They were interested in the talks held with humanitarians and the politicians", our interlocutor says.

    As an illustration what has been happening in "the days after" the visit, Ekren retells us the conversation he had last week with his mother. He says that his mother complained that the police broke into the house and questioned her. She told them that she knew nothing. In the end they told her: "You will all learn your lesson some day!"

    Continuing his long testimony, our interlocutor claims that, despite everything that has been happening in the past few years, the Serbs and the Muslims in villages around Priboj have shown that it was possible to live together, but that "it seems it is not convenient for some people who are not from these parts".

    (AIM) Zoran Tmusic

    Entrefille:

    On May 23, the Humanitarian Law Fund addressed a letter to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia, to Minister Sokolovic, warning him about the behavior of the policemen in Priboj against inhabitants of the village of Zaostro, after their talks with the investigator of the Fund... According to knowledge of the Fund, "people from Zaostro were questioned about who had visited the village, who they had talked to, what they had talked about and what each individual from the village had said". This has instilled fear in people.