War In The Balkans: Montenegro - Albanian refugees tortured by Serbs

"I THOUGHT I was dead. Not a hundred per cent sure - a thousand per cent," says Idris Murtezaj quietly describing how he was pushed hands up against the wall in a Serb prison, a cocked gun at his head. "The gun clicked, and nothing happened. They did that to me five or six times during those days. Sometimes against the wall, sometimes down on the floor. We were so afraid. I thought, `That's it'."

This terrifying experience did not start in Kosovo, but in the supposed haven of Montenegro where Idris and his family thought they had finally reached safety. His sister, his 78-year-old mother, his wife and six young children had made the snowy crossing over the mountains from Kosovo down into the little town of Rozaje, a poverty-stricken community that has provided a threadbare welcome for tens of thousands of refugees.

From Rozaje, Idris went with three friends to pick up an injured friend sheltering in a nearby village but soldiers captured them on the way. The soldiers, including Serb reservists, were liberal only with their violence. "They put handcuffs on us, and took us to Novi Pazar [across the border into Serbia]. They broke three of my friend's ribs. They hit my head against the wall. It hurt for five or six days. We did not get anything to eat for two days."

Idris did not approach me to give his story, and spoke hesitantly when he gave details only in response to persistent questioning, showing none of the familiar fluency of story- embroiderers.

He says he was handcuffed all the time as the soldiers abused them aimlessly. Despite questions such as, "Did you beat Serbs?", this was no interrogation. This was simply a chance for these soldiers and Serbian police to drive home to helpless refugees their absolute and absolutely violent power over them.

After two days, Idris and 300 others were suddenly bundled into buses and driven into Montenegro, and dumped, to make their way back to Rozaje. Idris's family had already given him up for dead.

There is an increasingly common incidence of random, sanctioned brutality. Galimeta Bogeskaj tells how eight men in masks and military uniform came on Monday night to the Montenegrin house where she and her family had found refuge. "They beat up one man. They demanded money, they took 1,200 marks (about pounds 450, a fortune in Yugoslav terms) then they told us, `Get out of here. Get out, and don't come back'."

The family fled down the mountainside to the relative safety of Rozaje, where the local authorities are supportive, though tiny Montenegro, with a population of 650,000, which theoretically still forms part of President Milosevic's Yugoslav federation.

Like Idris Murtezaj and his family, Galimeta and her children now sleep in primitive conditions on the floor of a disused factory. Nearby fields house a tent city.

Earlier this month, six Kosovo Albanians were killed by Yugoslav soldiers near Rozaje, an incident that outraged the increasingly powerless Montenegrin government. Jiri Dienstbier, former Czech dissident and foreign minister who is now the United Nations investigator for the region, visited Rozaje yesterday and said he regretted that the international community had offered "so little help" to Montenegro with its refugee crisis, and he called for a full investigation into the army killings.

The chances of such an investigation are slim. The Serb-dominated army does not answer questions. There is a widespread perception that pro- Belgrade forces are deliberately destabilising authority. The local police station is sandbagged against possible attack. A couple of miles from Rozaje, soldiers arrested a French television cameraman and his translator who had been accompanied by a Montenegrin police escort. The Frenchman faces trial for espionage, and a sentence of up to 10 years.

Montenegro itself is a brave attempt at the multi-ethnic federation of Yugoslavia which Slobodan Milosevic has long since destroyed. Tolerance is still its watchword, and many of its Muslims are fiercely loyal to the government, with its Orthodox Christian traditions.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
Sport
Sean Abbott
cricketSean Abbott is named Australia's young cricketer of the year
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£16500 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing Finance compa...

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory Solicitor / Compliance Manager - Surrey

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - SENIOR POSITION - An excellent senio...

Recruitment Genius: Inbound & Outbound Sales Agent

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Inbound & Outbound Sales Age...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Urgent - Cheshire - £25p/h

£20 - £25 per hour: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a hu...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea