A new beginning for the Serb returnees in Bicha village, August 2002

Vesti (Serbian émigré paper in Frankfurt, Germany)

August 17, 2002

First Serbs Return to Their Homes in the Metohija Village of Bicha
ANCESTRAL HOMES ON THE ASH HEAPS

Among houses set on fire and blown up with exposives 15 families begin a new life today in as many tents - Electricity from a generator, water from a water truck, food from humanitarian aid

By Rada Loncar

In the completely destroyed and empty Metohija village of Bicha, distant some seven kilometers from Klina, 15 Serb families are beginning a new life on the ash heaps of their former homes, housed in 15 tents pitched in a small area. These are the first returnees of 500 locals from 130 households who lived here prior to the arrival of KFOR and UNMIK in the southern Serbian province. All of them were forced to flee from their ancestral homes before the onslaught of Albanian extremists before the eyes of international peacekeeping troops.

Today all that can be seen in the village is ruins and phantom-like, stripped skeletons of former houses once inhabited by Serb families, and a huge construction site. Within the next two months 15 houses are scheduled to be completed for the same number of families, whose heads have already returned to the village.

"On July 29 in the organization of UNHCR and with strong protection of KFOR which continues to look after them today, 12 male heads of household arrived in Bicha, the descendants of the old local family of Doncic: Dragic, Krsto, Ilija, Svetislav, Radomir, Ljubisa, Milan, Radojica, Nebojsa, Boban, Radosav i Svetozar. We expect three more in the next few days. The women and children are still in collective refugee housing in central Serbia. They will come and other locals, too, as soon as we restore the first 27 houses, which is how many is planned for this year," said Radojica Doncic, whom we met in front of one of the tents.

Cell phone connection with the world

The restoration of the houses has been entrusted to the German company TKV while subcontractors are expected to be from Albanian and Serb companies in Crkolez and Gorazdevac.

"Our only connection with the world is through one cellular telephone; we just got electricity from a generato; KFOR brings us water in water trucks; we bathe and wash laundry in an improvised shower cabin with water that is cold or as warm as the sun can make it; we subsist on the same humanitarian assistance; but it doesn' t matter, the only important thing is that the return has begun," added Nebojsa Doncic.

Radojica shows us the blown up and torn down houses, the desecrated cemetery, the cut down orchards, the filled or polluted wells, the destroyed electrical distribution station and cement electrical poles.

Next to these ruins are pitched tents with four beds each bearing the markings of UNHCR. Only one room on the ground floor has been repaired in the nearest house, which is half destroyed. This room is everything to them: a common kitchen, dining room and living room, a store area and conference room for meetings with representatives of the international mission in the Province.

Cut down orchards

"The initiative for our return to our centuries-old homes began with the Kosovski Bozur Association and the entire campaign was organized by UNHCR from Belgrade and Kraljevo. First we came to visit the village last winter. At that time the orchards were still there with plums, apples, sour cherries, cherries... After our visit someone cut down all the trees even those which were several hundred years old. All the wood was removed. Also during the period between our visit last winter and our return, what remained was set on fire and torn down: the electrical distribution center and power lines. What we found was really horrible. The most terrible thing of all is that all four graveyards in Bicha have been destroyed," said Nebojsa.

In addition to restoration of the houses, the locals of Bicha expect the help of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren to build a new church so that they can marry and christen their children because the old village church dedicated to Sv. Petka has also been destroyed. And to build at least an elementary school. To see hope and a future in their wounded ancestral home.

We must forgive each other

The closest Albanian houses are a few kilometers away from the Serb onces. They say they have not met yet with their Albanian neighbors even though they would like to.

"The important thing is that our Albanian neighbors udnerstand that Serbs are not the only ones to blame for everything that happened to them. During the time of the NATO bombing, we helped the Albanians from the neighboring villages. We took food and other essentials to them. We gave them food as they were leaving their homes. We have a great desire to remain in our ancestral homes and to once again communicate with our Roma and Albanian neighbors, to try to forgive each other. Life must go on," said the Doncices in a concilatory tone.

Armed Albanians open fire against Serb returnee families in Bicha, Klina Municipality

Kosovo Albanians continue pressures on first Serb returnees to Kosovo and Metohija

Upon returning to their native village of Bicha on July 29, 2002 14 families originally from Bicha returned to their centuries-old home. On August 26, 2002 an attack occurred on the returnee families in Bicha from the direction of the neighboring village of Stupelj, consisting of houses belonging to the extended K/Albanian family of Selmanaj.

The attack was carried out with three bursts from an automatic weapon at 8:40 p.m. No one was injured in this attack.

After this incident KFOR soldiers responsible for peace and safety did not react against the attackers and they returned to their village undisturbed.

Immediately after the incident a civilian K/Albanian vehicle from the neighboring Albanian village of Ozrim arrived in Bicha to see the reaction of the returnees to this attack. The vehicle was not checked by forces responsible for safety and security but continued at slow speed toward the neighboring village of Stupelj.

All Serb returnee families appeared disturbed and frightened, and remained awake throughout the night to wait for further developments. These developments occurred following a visit by the KFOR commander in chief, General Marcel Valentin.

Excerpt from the more detailed report of B. Doncic
Village of Bicha, Klina municipality

(this provocation of armed Kosovo Albanians occured only three days before another armed Albanian gang attacked Serb farmers and KFOR soldiers near Gorazdevac, Aug. 29, 2002)