Testimony of Dragica Bozanic: KLA took all the Serbs from Opterusa in July 1998

Dragica Božanić
Source: Kosovo online

Dragica Bozanic, a former prisoner of the KLA in Kosovo, whose minor son Nemanja, husband Mladen, and close relatives were kidnapped and killed, is testifying today in the Special Court in the proceedings against Hashim Thaci, Kadri Veseli, Rexhep Selimi, and Jakup Krasniqi. She said at the trial that she had been imprisoned in the village of Zociste with women from her village and the surrounding villages and that they had had no information about their relatives.

Bozanic said that people from her village of Opterusa had been detained with her, and when asked if they had been members of the Serbian police or the army, she pointed out that they had been people engaged in agriculture and civilians.

As she said, all the men had been taken by the KLA in July 1998, and there had been no conflict before July 17, when the first attack by the KLA had taken place.

"No, there was no fighting until that day, until the 17th or 18th when we were attacked, then the fighting lasted from 1:00 a.m., until the morning. Before that, we had no fighting," she said

She recalled that her village was mostly inhabited by Albanians. According to her, there were 260 of their houses and about 10 Serbian ones.

As she said, the Albanians and the Serbs used to meet in the field every day and there used to be respect between them. They had moved on the narrow roads to let the cars of each other pass.

However, she adds that over time, with increasing tensions, the Albanians and the Serbs slowly stopped socializing. During her presentation, Bozanic said that her late husband had been a good man and that before the KLA attack; he had socialized even more with the Albanians than with the Serbs.

"My husband was a good man and he socialized more with the Shqiptars than with the Serbs, he went out to the shops. and whoever he socialized with he was a good friend. Everyone knows that," she said.

Answering questions about her son Nemanja and cousin Zlato Bozanic, she said that the two had not been in the village when the attack had taken place.

"My husband voluntarily sent his son to the village to join the army on June 24; that’s how it was, you join the army and then you get married. Zlatko Bozanic was a military mercenary in Prizren because he did not have a job as an educator. He was not a military person but a military man a mercenary and everyone knows that in our village does," Bozanic said.

Speaking about the imprisonment in Zociste, Bozanic said that none of the women with whom she had been imprisoned had not been explained why they were imprisoned and that the Albanians had told them "We did not bring you here to kill you, if we wanted to, we would have killed you in the yard".

"They didn't tell us anything more. We were still locked up in that house. There were armed young people and a woman was there with us and that's what they told us when they picked us up," she said.

She stated that she had seen her husband for the last time in the town of Pecani and that she had been imprisoned with other women from her village and the surrounding villages.

"In Zociste, we stayed in the monastery for two nights, and the second night the monastery was attacked. A grenade fell on the corner of the monk's bedroom. The monk told us that we had to surrender; they hung a white sheet and said "We surrender". They took us to the center and took us to the village of Smetiste, where they interrogated us one by one. They were watching us, we weren't allowed to move," Bozanic said.

One of the women she met in captivity was Slavica Bandzic, who, according to Bozanic, told her that while she was in Pecani, she went down to the basement of the house where the men were imprisoned and sat down.

"She went down to the basement and saw the men and said they were on straw on the floor. She saw her husband, my son, a total of eight of our men were there," she said.

Also, Bozanic said at the trial that in 1998 she had met her cousin Petar Kostic in the Zociste monastery. When asked by the court what they discussed during the meeting, she said that they had been scared and cried.

"When she saw me, she cried about what had happened to us. We cried, what else could we do, we comforted each other. She said that they had been picked up and that among the members of the KLA, there had been people she knew from their village. She told me that she was most afraid for her sons. She told me that in Retimlje they had been arrested by people who had been both in uniform and in plain clothes. The same was true of those who picked us up only from our village," she said.

Bozanic said that she had told her fate and everything that had happened to her in captivity to her cousin Olgica Bozanic, who had lived in Orahovac.

"When we first met, I told her my story and she knows my truth. I told her everything, she was educated and smart and I thought she was the right person to know about it. She keeps a record of all this, even though she is not a witness. She represents us through the Association, I left it to her, and I am a witness," Bozanic said.

According to her, Olgica Bozanic tried to get information about the missing persons and is dealing with it today.

During the questioning of the representative of the victims, the British lawyer Simon Laws, Dragica Bozanic pointed out that it had never been possible to return to Kosovo after those events.

"No, it was not possible to return, after such an accident; what could I expect further on among the Shqiptars; there was no way back, a lot of ugly things happened, and I would never return," she said.

Bozanic stated that as far as she could remember, all her ancestors had been born and had grown up in Kosovo, and before the war, she had considered Kosovo her home.

Bozanic described life before the war as normal, good, and happy, and stated that living with Albanian neighbors had been the same as with Serb neighbors.

"Life was normal, except that we are not of the same religion, but we hung out, congratulated each other on holidays, they Easter to us, we Eid to them. And when I got married, I went to another village, the same mixed one, and we continued like that. My father-in-law was a good man, everyone respected him, because of him the older people stood up for me to sit on the bus," Bozanic said.

As she says, since her son and husband disappeared, she has completely changed; she is no longer the same person, and her granddaughter, who was born during a difficulty, gives her the strength to fight for the truth.

"Perhaps she saved my mind to be strong even after 25 years and to look for my son and husband and all the others who suffered. It's not easy, it's hard, I wouldn't wish what happened to me on any parent. When they took my son away, they took away half my heart, I will die with it, and my last breath will be for my son and my husband. I am going to the end of the world only for the truth, I do not say anything that is bad, that is not, I have told what is the most difficult for me, that hurt me the most," Bozanic said.

As he emphasizes, five years of uncertainty is a lot, let alone 25.

"None of the neighbors had the strength to say they were killed - they are there, go, take them. We were not bad people, we did not quarrel with anyone, I feel guilty that it happened like that, they could have come and said go, leave everything and go, instead of picking us up, and to take young children who didn't even go to school. My son was 16 years old," she stated.

Bozanic, as she said, had not lived in Kosovo since she had been released after the kidnapping. Then, as she says, they told her that she was going to Serbia and that she had nothing to look for in her village in Kosovo.

"I have lived to come here, and I will not give up the truth as long as I live. I will die with my pain," Bozanic said.

By the way, Dragica Boznic told the media three years ago that she had been informed in 2006 that the remains of Mladen and Nemanja Bozanic had been found and that "she took their bones from the Merdare crossing and buried them at Orlovaza in Belgrade", but that she did not believe that it was them. As she said then, "It is up to God".