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Abduction

TV B 92 FEATURES

A Project of VERAN MATIC

"THE INDEPENDENT FOR THE TRUTH"

 

NARRATOR: Sjeverin is situated in south-western Serbia, on the very frontier with Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is five kilometers away from the small town of Rudo, which is situated in eastern Bosnia.

Archive materials

NARRATOR 2: The central celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Yugoslav People's Army was held in Rudo. After his arrival to this small Bosnian town, whose name is written in capital letters in the history of the national-liberation war, President of the Republic Josip Broz Tito laid a wreath on the tomb of the Partisans.

Narrator: The life of the inhabitants of Sjeverin used to be oriented towards Rudo. That was where they went to school, where their friends lived, and where they attended football matches. The town of Priboj is located 15 kilometers from Sjeverin. The majority of the inhabitants of Sjeverin used to work in Priboj, as from the 1950s onwards it had become the industrial center of this part of Serbia.

NARRATOR 2: On October 31, the inhabitants of Priboj held a double celebration – the tenth liberation anniversary and the opening of the new car factory. Trucks and cars will be produced on a large scale in the workshops of this huge industrial facility. The new factory will provide faster development and higher standard to the entire surrounding region.

ABDUCTION

Directed by Ivan Markov

BEHUDIN HODZIC: Years have passed… Everything is different now.

Whenever I go to Priboj, I can never pass along this section of the road without remembering everything.

NARRATOR: The twenty-nine-year-old Behudin Hodzic commutes to Priboj every day, along the same route that his father used to take ten years ago when going to work.

BEHUDIN HODZIC: What you see is enough, it's enough to see a house that's been torched and demolished, and that's it – you think instantly about the worst things, about crime, about a very difficult situation.

NARRATOR: Behudin's father, Medo Hodzic, is one of the sixteen inhabitants of Sjeverin who had worked for companies in Priboj and who were abducted from a bus that was transporting workers in the village of Mioce, on the territory of the Republic of Srpska, on October 22, 1992. Their fate has not been resolved to this day.

Milan Lukic from Visegrad has been accused of this crime together with nine other members of the so-called paramilitary units, which were engaged by the Army of the Republic of Srpska to carry out special operations during the last war. 

Due to this abduction, Sjeverin has become a well-known place. It has secured its place in the history of war crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. This was the first crime committed against the citizens of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the last war.

In 1992, Serb military and paramilitary units from Bosnia used to pass freely along the road that leads through Sjeverin. This road is of strategic importance because it connects Rudo and Visegrad – towns that have been under the control of Bosnian Serbs.

In spite of the continuous presence of the army and the war that was being fought across the river, the life in Sjeverin seemingly went on as if everything were normal. This lasted until the late summer of 1992.

August 26, 1992

FIKRET DZIHIC: People were living normally – for instance, people went to work, we used to go swimming in the river Lim, the kids were going to school – so it was a normal life.

NARRATOR: A group of armed persons in camouflage uniforms stops in Sjeverin. One of them checks the ID of Ramo Berbo, who is waiting for the bus in the centre of the village.

SAVRIJA HODZIC: I looked out of the window, craning my neck to see, and a woman, a neighbour living across the street, said: "Good grief, Savrija, they have killed that man, Ramo Berbo."

FIKRET DZIHIC: A man pulled out a gun – in front of Sefka's house, on the threshold as it were, only five meters away – and killed him there, just by the road.

HALID KUJUNDZIC: The army and the police were stationed over there, in the community centre, in the hall. And the distance from there to this crossroads, by the local pub, is about 150-200 metres, the distance of two football pitches. I don't know why they didn't react, how come they didn't. They didn't even catch this man, though he got into his car and drove away in the direction of Rudo.

WITNESS (OFF): I don't know who called the police. The police came, made a report in three minutes, but none of the citizens came out – no one dared to.

NARRATOR: On September 11, 1992, the police arrested Dragan Savic from Visegrad on a charge of murder. Since none of the witnesses had recognized Savic as the perpetrator, he was released.

RAMIZ CATOVIC: This had happened, and later on we got a little sore. We had not reacted, and that was a mistake.

HALID KUJUNDZIC: People were beginning to fear for their safety, and after this some even left Sjeverin of their own will, they just couldn't stay on. Several families moved out, maybe four or five.

NARRATOR: For months after this event, the safety of travellers on the road between Sjeverin and Priboj remained jeopardized by the presence of armed units.

The only transportation route leading from Sjeverin to Priboj passes through the territory of Bosnia. Bosnian checkpoints were controlled by soldiers belonging to the Army of the Republic of Srpska. In order to secure the safe passage of their Muslim workers, the companies from Priboj issued them with special passes.

BEHUDIN HODZIC: The companies issued their workers with transit passes, a kind of document, as curfew had been imposed and with this document they could pass through the checkpoint and move freely, it was their permit.

RASIM PECIKOZA: My son said to me, "Dad, we have been told that there's no war in Serbia, that we have these permits and that we should go to work regularly."

NARRATOR: Up until late October 1992, these passes provided a false feeling of security.

October 21, 1992

Afternoon

NARRATOR: The bus bound for Sjeverin and carrying workers who are returning from Priboj factories passes by the torched Amfora pub in the village of Mioce.

RAMO GIBOVIC: I wouldn't be able to recognize anyone, since the bus was only passing by, it didn't stop there, I could just see in passing, across the bridge, that those who were there were singing, and that they were roasting a lamb on a spit… It was a group of warriors.

October 21, 1992

Evening

NARRATOR: The twenty-two-year-old Sabahudin Catovic leaves his house, which is situated on the outskirts of the village.

RAMIZ CATOVIC: He had supper up at his brother's place. His mother hadn't even seen him on that night! I did see him, he went up this way.

SAFIJA CATOVIC: I rushed to stop him, so he wouldn't go, but I couldn't find him – it was dark. "Come back, wait, wait, wait" I called – but my child was nowhere to be found.

RAMIZ CATOVIC: It's ninety-nine or one hundred per cent sure that Savic captured him up at the quarry – fifty metres from here. Reportedly, he asked him if he wanted to go to Rudo. And what could he do – he went and we never heard anything since then.

NARRATOR: All trace of the young man has since been lost.

October 22, 1992

Morning

NARRATOR: Ramahudin Catovic, not knowing that his brother has been abducted, leaves for work in the morning.

MEVLUDIN HODZIC: On that day, just like on any other day, they left for work. They were going to their companies to work and to come back, never suspecting what could happen to them.

MINA GIBOVIC: I saw him out when he went to work and he left together with our neighbour at six o'clock. There's a bus stop down by the road and that was where they went and sat waiting, and after that the bus took them as far as Mioce.

ADMIR DZIHIC: He was going to work. He was working the first shift, and I came along with him, as I was attending school in Priboj.

It was in the morning. We went down to the road. There were a few people there, also from our village.

NARRATOR: Inhabitants of Sjeverin working in Priboj board a bus owned by the Priboj company Raketa that regularly transported workers between Rudo and Priboj. Some of these people had not been going to work for the last three months. On that day, they had been called to come and collect their salaries.

HANKA PECIKOZA: They went to get their salaries, as it had been announced that Thursday would be the pay-day. They gathered at seven o'clock in the morning and left by bus, unaware of what would befall them.

MEVLUDIN HODZIC: There was no one in that bus that morning except schoolchildren and workers, those who worked the first shift.

NARRATOR: The thirteen-year-old Admir Dzihic was going to school. He was travelling to Priboj with his uncle. The fear aroused in him by what he saw on that day still lingers in him.

ADMIR DZIHIC: They were standing in the middle of the road, not sitting there or anything, but waiting for that specific bus.

NARRATOR: Around 6: 30 A.M., nine armed men with blackened faces and wearing camouflage uniforms stop the bus by the Amfora pub.

MEVLUDIN HODZIC: Two of them were standing outside, and another two were standing over there by the pub – that pub had been torched on the previous night.

ADMIR DZIHIC: And so they stopped the bus, and when two of them got on they said "Show your IDs." This is what we were told by a boy who had been standing close to the driver.

NARRATOR: Four soldiers are checking the passengers' documents, and the passengers are showing them their IDs and transit passes confirming that they work in Priboj.

ADMIR DZIHIC: When we saw what they were doing, it looked to us as a normal control at first.

I was standing by the door, next to Ilija – his wife was over there, next to her was his son, and I was next to him. He asked him to show his ID, then he came up to his son and asked him what his name was, and he turned and said that this was his son – but as he had already passed by me, he never addressed me, but he just went on down the aisle.

HANKA PECIKOZA: "You Muslims," he said – "get out." Reckoning just like before, they made no fuss at all – perhaps if they had known what was in store for them, they may have offered some physical resistance, tried to fight – they might have, but being unaware of what would befall them, they got off the bus.

ADMIR DZIHIC: My uncle was the first one who was ordered out.

I looked through the back door like this – he had been the last one to board the bus, and when the first soldier got on, he was ordered to get off.

ZINETA HODZIC: A woman was on the bus, my husband's sister – she was the only woman there, and when the order had been given that all Muslims should get off, she saw her brother was being taken out, saw him getting off, and she screamed: "Where are you taking my brother?" To which they replied, "If he's your brother, you get off too," and so she was kidnapped together with them.

ADMIR HODZIC: When I saw my uncle get off the bus, I got quite upset… As I was small – 13 years old. I got scared when I saw they'd ordered them out.

We were held up there for a while – they threw everyone out, all of them got off too, and they stood there in a group, talking… The bus wasn't allowed to move on. Then one of them came back to the front door and said: "You can go now, drive on, but you have seen nothing and you have heard nothing. If anyone says anything, mind that I know you all."

NARRATOR: Under the threat of arms, the soldiers take fifteen men and one women out of the bus. Admir remained on the bus, as the kidnappers believed he was the son of Ilija and Desa Kitic, who he had been standing next to. And so he came to be the only Muslim witness of this abduction.

FIKRET DZIHIC: Nobody raised a finger to prevent the abduction – no one.

HANKA PECIKOZA: As they got off, one by one, they were immediately ordered to get in the back of the truck, under the tarpaulin. One of the men pushed Mujo Alihodzic, saying "Mujo, what are you waiting for, get in!"

SAVRIJA HODZIC: It was a two-ton truck with a yellow tarpaulin, and they helped each other to get on, including the old Ramiz, who was about to retire, they say he was lifted up on rifle-butts. And so they got onto the truck and my son was crying for help and weeping – he was calling for me, you know, "Oh, mother, oh, mother, help, oh mother" – you know. And so they made them get on that truck and lowered the tarpaulin and drove to Bijela Brda, as that area is called, below Visegrad.

ADMIR DZIHIC: When the bus drove on, Ilija's wife asked me if I had a place to stay the night in Priboj, and I just told her I had and nothing else – we just rode on.

NARRATOR: The bus arrives in Priboj. The passengers, witnesses of the abduction, get off the bus, and Admir goes to school.

ADMIR DZIHIC: I entered the classroom and began to cry. "What is it, what happened?" – the teacher asked me. I said nothing had happened. "Why are you crying?" – "It's nothing," I said.

NARRATOR: The bus driver, Vojislav Stojkanovic, informs his superiors in the Raketa transport company about the incident.

The news spreads through Priboj; the police are not reacting, nor are the local officials.

ZINETA HODZIC: The officials of the Priboj municipality could not have saved them even if they had wanted to. Everyone knew immediately what had happened, since the bus had arrived in Priboj on time – it may have been delayed for ten to fifteen minutes, which was how long it took to collect these people, the Muslims. And as they were supposed to get to work and didn't show up, the story about the incident got around, all citizens in the municipality talked about it, both Serbs and Muslims.

RAMO GIBOVIC: If they had reacted at all, within one hour these people could certainly have been brought back alive – for sure, they could have returned.

October 22, 1992

Around 7: 15 A.M.

NARRATOR: Driving in the direction of Visegrad, the kidnappers passed through two checkpoints controlled by the Yugoslav Army and the federal police (MUP).

On that Thursday, the inhabitants of Sjeverin did not show up at their workplaces at 7 A.M. There was nobody to carry out their duties.

Idriz Gibovic worked in the flour mill company Mlin – 12 Januar.

Ramahudin Catovic and Mevlida Hodzic worked in the decorative plastic factory Dekorplast.

Those who worked in the Priboj polyester factory were Esad Dzihic, Medredin Hodzic and Mustafa Bajramovic.

At the polyurethane factory – Mehmed Sebo and Medo Hodzic.

At the electric power company of Uzice – Midhat Softic and Hajrudin Sajtarevic.

At the Bratstvo i Jedinstvo company – Dervis Softic.

Alija Mandal, Sead Pecikoza and Mujo Alihodzic worked in the FAP car factory.

Muzafer Hadzic worked in the supermarket.

Ramiz Begovic used to be a registrar in the Priboj municipality.

October 22, 1992.

Around 7: 45 A.M.

The Zastava truck with the abducted commuters broke down in the vicinity of Uvac.

Another truck came along from the direction of Priboj. Its driver was Miloje Udovicic, a pub-owner from Priboj.

The armed soldiers stopped the truck and forced Udovicic to tow them in the direction of Visegrad.

Today, ten years later, Miloje Udovicic is reluctant to talk about this crime, and so are the other witnesses of the abduction, including the bus driver Vojislav Stojkanovic. Their excuse for remaining silent is fear.

ZVONKO PRIJOVIC, JOURNALIST: I suppose that the man who towed them had simply been forced to do it. And later on, probably fearing for his life and his family, he never talked about this.

NARRATOR: Towing the truck in the direction of Visegrad, Udovicic realizes that there are people in it.

The relatives of the abducted heard the news about the abduction on the same day, several hours later.

ZUMREDIN HODZIC: In the morning, around 9 or 10 A.M., I don't remember the exact time, my mother-in-law called me and said my brother had been taken away. I told her it wasn't a problem if they'd taken my brother, that it'd be OK, that somebody would take care of it – the Uzice Corps, the army, the police, the municipality.

RAMO GIBOVIC: I parked in front of the factory gates and said I'd come to see if my brother Gibo was still at work – they said he wasn't. And then it was all clear to me – that he had been taken and…

NARRATOR: Having returned from school around 1 P.M., Admir tells the neighbours what has happened. He will be the one to break the tragic news to the relatives of the abducted. In the absence of reliable information or an official investigation, this piece of news will take on a life of its own.

ADMIR HODZIC: I couldn't wait to get home, so I could tell everyone the news – I ran all the way back from school, in order to get home as quickly as possible.

MINA GIBOVIC: We didn't know what was going on with them until the kid returned from school at noon.

ZINETA HODZIC: The kid had of course been scared stiff, his classes had ended, he had come back, and he was the first to tell me what had happened. After that, it was broadcasted on Radio Priboj too…

NARRATOR: Radio Priboj announces that the commuters have been kidnapped only on the one o'clock news, six hours after their abduction.

ADMIR HODZIC: She was saying "Hush, I'm listening," and she was confused, he was disturbed, panic began to spread…

RAMIZ CATOVIC: A mass of people assembled in front of my house, some of them wailing. "What's going on, folks," I asked. One man came to me and said "Ramiz, all of those who were on the bus and commuting to work have been abducted in Mioce." "What are you saying?! – "All of them." At that, I just fell to the ground.

ADMIR HODZIC: Everyone was rather looking at me and listening to what I was saying then paying attention to the news… Asking –  "What happened, how did it happen, did you recognize any of them, how were they taken off the bus, where was one man or another, did they do anything to them"…

October 22, 1992

Around 8: 30 A.M.

NARRATOR: Udovicic tows the truck with the abducted passengers all the way to Bijela Brda.

Having managed to repair the truck, the kidnappers let Udovicic continue his journey to Uzice.

According to the locals, this happened close to the motel at Bijela Brda.

Behudin Hodzic is doing his compulsory military service, and he learns there that his father has gone missing.

Behudin Hodzic: I heard about the abduction on the evening news. I didn't manage to get any other information that night, it was only on the following day that I went to the post office and got in touch with a colleague of mine, who told me the names… told me what had happened… I was astounded, dumb-struck… speechless.

ZVONKO PRIJOVIC: On Saturday, daily Borba reported that the abducted people from Sjeverin had been killed on the very same day. It was actually the correspondent from Uzice, who had quoted unconfirmed information from the Uzice Corps. I had the same information on Friday afternoon, but I also had another information, according to which the abducted people were about to be exchanged as prisoners.

 

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