A year ago, the people of this little town took in tens of thousands of refugees from the Serbian rampage through Kosovo.
Today, the residents of Rozaje find not only that they have received little thanks for their open-armed welcome of Kosovo Albanians as NATO bombed Yugoslavia. They feel battered, financially poorer and still trapped by the pressures of war.
At least 10 of the inhabitants — who, though mostly Muslim, are Slavs — have lost their lives in revenge attacks by Albanians in Kosovo just because they spoke Serbian, and not Albanian.Tucked into a far mountainous corner of Montenegro, near the borders with Kosovo and with Serbia proper, Rozaje has always been buffeted by wars and filled with refugees. But a year after the worst calamity arrived on its doorstep, and months after most of the refugees went home, Rozaje remains uneasy.
On one part of the border, turbulence continues in Kosovo, the Albanian-dominated southern province of Serbia now administered by the United Nations and policed largely by NATO soldiers. Hatred for the Serbs runs so strong in Kosovo that it is dangerous even for the Muslims of Rozaje.
On the other part of Montenegro’s border, the Yugoslav Army has recently renewed its presence, raising tensions and reminding Montenegrins of the misery and chaos of last spring, when they found themselves at odds with their own Serbian-dominated Yugoslav government. Of the two republics left in the Yugoslav federation, Montenegro is a reluctant junior partner to Serbia.
Two Rozaje families, in particular, are suspended in grief by the aftershocks of the war. They are the relatives of two taxi drivers, Halit Nurkovic, 62, and Dervis Muric, 59, who went together to Kosovo last July 24, after the war ended, and never returned.
”He did not even suspect that anyone would harm him,” said Mr. Muric’s wife, Vasvija. ”He was not scared, because he could speak Albanian. He did not think he would get into any trouble. Everyone was surprised it could happen to him, because he was so good-natured.”
The two men are among at least 10 people from the region who have disappeared or been killed in Kosovo since the war, all but one of them Muslims. Most were taxi or truck drivers, and one was a Muslim cleric from Sjenica, a village 30 miles from Rozaje. The bodies of the eight others have been found and returned, but the two taxi drivers disappeared without a trace.
Like all of the taxi drivers in town, the two missing men spent last March through May driving up to the border with Kosovo to help carry the wretched columns of refugees arriving on foot through the snow and ice to safety. They both took refugee families into their own homes, as did virtually everyone in Rozaje, because refugee centers were overflowing.
”There wasn’t room to move here, there were so many people,” Mrs. Muric said as she gestured around her living room.
”We had up to 30 people at times. There wasn’t room to lie down. They were wet, tired and dirty.”
In addition, her son, who was not in Rozaje then, opened up his empty house to the needy from Kosovo.
”Anyone would do the same,” she said. ”My son was abroad, but when he heard about the refugees, he called his father and told him to let refugees use his house too.”
Mr. Nurkovic, a widower with five daughters, also took in refugees. He seemed to be the last person who might find himself in trouble, said one of his daughters, Elsana Nurkovic, 23.
”He’s quite old,” she said. ”He’s not rich. His car is old.”
On July 24 he took an acquaintance, a Muslim woman, back to her village in Kosovo. Mr. Muric asked if he could ride along to do an errand.
After dropping off their passenger, they stopped by the house of Mr. Nurkovic’s sister in the town of Pec. Tooting the horn, Mr. Nurkovic shouted greetings up to the window, saying he would be back in 15 minutes. The two men set off for an outlying village on their errand and never came back.
It is a story common enough in Kosovo, where revenge killings of Serbs and members of other minorities have overwhelmed the international forces sent to restore peace. But for the people of Rozaje, who did so much for the Albanians during the war, it seems a slap in the face.
”It is very difficult to accept that people did something like this, especially when you know what they went through,” Mrs. Muric said.
Ms. Nurkovic said that by helping the Kosovo Albanians, the people of Rozaje risked enraging the Serbs. ”The town was in danger from Serbs,” she said, ”and now this.”
More than 85,000 refugees came through Rozaje, most of them staying for the three months of the war, said Mayor Nusret Kalac.
Kosovo could now offer Rozaje lucrative trade opportunities, he said, but he has had no official contacts with the international or local authorities since the war.
But he acknowledged that the issue was sensitive. Montenegro, despite the welcome it showed the thousands of refugees, and its opposition to the Yugoslav government in Belgrade, is still formally tied to the Yugoslav leadership, NATO’s official enemies and, for Kosovo Albanians, their implacable foes.
So the Nurkovic and Muric families have had to pursue the search for their men alone.
They found that Mr. Muric’s errand might have been the cause for the men’s disappearance. Begged by a Serb in Montenegro to seek news of his son in Kosovo, a policeman who had been reported wounded, Mr. Muric may have fallen under suspicion by people who had belonged to the Kosovo Liberation Army, the separatist Albanian rebel group.
The many different leads have led the families on an apparently endless quest.
”They won’t even tell us where the bodies are,” Mrs. Muric said. ”We are in a situation where they say nothing to us. No one says anything.” She said peacekeepers in Kosovo just say, ”We’ll see.”
”It is very difficult not knowing where your husband is,” she added, quietly.
Ms. Nurkovic’s desperation for news of her father sent her into Kosovo repeatedly, despite the dangers. ”I passed hell there, doing things in the middle of the night, somewhere in an Albanian village, digging up a grave,” she said.
She stared with eyes dark-ringed with exhaustion. Following up a lead, she and a relative exhumed a body themselves, inspecting the corpse by the light of an oil lamp for a broken wrist bone like her father’s or teeth that they could recognize. But the body was not his. Three times she paid money to people who promised information but never reappeared.
She saved her harshest words for the international peacekeepers and United Nations police who, she says, have failed to uncover the perpetrators of killings.
”They are not doing anything,” she said bitterly. ”They are just posing with their guns.”
Photos: Vasvija Muric wonders what happened to her husband, a Montenegrin Muslim who vanished in July. (Andrew Testa for The New York Times)(pg. 14); Elsana Nurkovic stands next to a photograph of her father, who disappeared in Kosovo and is feared dead. (Andrew Testa for The New York Times)(pg. 1) Map of Yugoslavia shows the location of Rozaje: The village of Rozaje sheltered thousands of Kosovo refugees. (pg. 14)