Novosti journalists meet in Podujevo Serbs who had been freed from the vill
age of Velika Reka by the OSCE verifiers
by Dragan Vujicic and Miljan Vuksanovic 

Vecernje Novosti, Belgrade, FR Yugoslavia, January 5, 1999
PODUJEVO - Seven Serbs from Podujevo villages have been evacua ted these
days with the help of the OSCE mission in Podujevo. Milan and Ranka R akic,
Desimir Rakic with his wife Slavka from Velika Reka (near Podujevo) as we ll
as Miroljub and Ljubica Ristic from Lapastica and Budimir Zdravkovic from Ob
randza. They were among the last remaining Serbs in the formerly ethnically
mix ed villages around Podujevo, a Kosovo town twenty miles north from
Pristina, th e provincial capital. They had been cut off by "Kosovo
Liberation Army" ("KLA" ) for ten days. 
The reporters of Novosti from Belgrade were only journalists beside th eir
colleagues from the Washington Post who managed to reach Podujevo. The
Albanians treat Podujevo as "their town" and behave accordingly. 

In the town hall we met Mr. Milovan Tomcic, the mayor of Podujevo, and Mr.
Srba Bisercic, the president of the City Council. They were having an urgent
meetin g on which they discussed how to stop the ongoing ethnic cleansing.
Almost dail y, more and more Serbs are leaving their homes under the
pressure from the Alba nian rebels. At the moment no one has any idea how to
stop this silent ethnic c leansing. 

Empty villages
"The terrorist gangs of the so-called KLA rebels in the last ten days have
comp letely cleansed the villages of Donja and Gornja Lapastica where there
used to be 13 Serb homes," says mayor Tomcic. "The day before yesterday the
last six Se rb families left Velika Reka village. The last family has been
forced to leave Dobrtina village. The same situation is in Donja and Gornja
Lapastica and Peran e (once the largest Serb village in the area). As we
heard, in Benduka there ar e still three Serb homes with Cvetic and
Jovanovic families but all the childre n had been sent away for safety. 
"Sajkovac village is empty too," Tomcic continues. "In Svetlje local
Albanian v illagers could not protect the Andric family from the rebels and
they had to le ave for central Serbia. The Serbs in Podujevo aree are
suffering from the worst kind of Nazism. 

Mr. Bisercic, visibly irritated with the situation continues: 

"As you drive from Podujevo to Pristina, on the right side of the road you
can see Shqiptar trenches and barricades. Only they know when they will strike. 

The local Albanians from Podujevo say that they do not have anything to do
with this because the "KLA" rebels from Drenica, Salja and Bajgora, and
Glogovac ar e doing all these misdeeds. 

"And we, what we can do," asks Mr. Bisercic. "We are waiting for our
authoritie s to protect us. Everyday we write appeals and letters but so far
there has bee n no reaction." 

About 100 meters from the Podujevo town center, in the appartment of
Dragisa Ra kic, we met his uncle Milan and his aunt Ranka (both 80 years
old) as well as D esimir and Stanka, who are in their late sixties. They are
the last Serbs from Velika Reka village who were evacuated by the verifiers.
Their village has been surrounded by "KLA" for more than a month. 

Everywhere - Only Albanians
That's how elder Milan Rakic began his story. "It is seventh or eighth time
sin ce 1941 that we have to leave our home and our land. When on December 25
Milova n Radojcevic (70) was killed by 'KLA' in Obrandza their soldiers came
to Velika Reka and told us to hand over our weapons. We were not harassed.
They gave us some papers for the confiscated hunting rifles. They said they
were afraid we w ould attack them. I am 80 and my brother is 68. Who can we
attack in our age!?" 
Two Serb homes were cut off by "KLA" for ten days and no one knew anything
abou t those people, Milan Rakic said. The local Albanian villagers did not
harm the m. They also claimed that they did not recognize the "KLA" soldiers
who search ed the houses. 

Leaving for Podujevo with the verifiers, Milan and Desimir Rakic asked
their Al banian neighbors to take care of their livestock and their houses.
Milan says t hat he wants to go back as soon as this madness is over. 

"My son Dragan was killed in 1997 in Surkes village, just on the outskirts
of P odujevo," said Slavka Rakic, Desimir's wife. "He was in a car with a
police ins pector when they were ambushed on the road. My daughter-in-law
and my grandchil dren are now in Nis (central Serbia) and only I have
remained here with my husb and." 

Mother Slavka caressed the photo of her killed son and her daughter-in-law
who is now far away. She cried and said that they had left a farm with 40
acres of best land, lots of agricultural mashines and all the belongings in
their homes. 

As we were leaving Podujevo we noticed that it was very lively in the town
that day. All around the town, in the main square, on the sidewalks,
everywhere, on e could see Albanians walking and laughing. Some were even
amazed to see a car with Belgrade car plates. On one junction we noticed
five, six policemen. We di d not dare to ask how they felt. 

There are 78 villages in the Podujevo municipality. By late December, when
terr orist attacks became more frequent, 37 villages had already been
ethnically com pletely Albanian while in 41 villages Serbs and Albanians
still lived together . In the last two weeks the Serbs are leaving for
central Serbia in large numbe rs for fear of the "KLA" terror. 
The remaining Serbs in Podujevo sincerely hope that a border would not be a
rei nstalled again in this town as during the Turkish occupation. In 1912,
the Serb ian army liberated this old town after five centuries Ottoman

The village of Perane was once the strongest Serb stronghold in the
Podujevo ar ea. Today it is empty. A part of the population fled to central
Serbia while th e others were evacuated to Podujevo. During the day they can
still go to the vi llage to see their farms but no one dares to spend the
night there. Famous Serb ian general Petar Bojovic, who was led the Serbian
army in WWI liberation of Se rbia [from Austria-Hungary in 1918], was born
in this village. 

According to the 1961 census there were 10.000 Serbs and 25.000 Albanians
in th e Podujevo municipality. In the town, the Serbs were 70% of the
population whil e the Albanians constituted 25%. The last census in 1991
shows that only 1.463 Serbs remained in Podujevo while the number of
Albanians increased rapidly to a bout 90.000. 
"In the last seven years we tried to increase the number of the Serbs in
this a rea by trying to find jobs for all the young people," says Milovan
Tomcic the m ayor and the local representative in the Serbian Parliament.
"Annualy 40-50 Ser b children were born in Podujevo and it gave us hope that
we might stop the neg ative demographic trend. But, just when we were on the
point of restoring some kind of ethnic balance "KLA" terrorist attacks
started and our people are leavi ng now. At the moment our school is closed
and more than 200 Serb children have been evacuated to central Serbia. We
are waiting to see what will happen. Serb ia and Yugoslavia must help us to

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