25 March 2007

Two small children perish in fire near Kosovo Polje

Vecernje Novosti, Belgrade, Monday, January 8, 2007


Little brother and little sister burned to death in each other's arms




KOSOVO POLJE - Family Christmas celebrations came to a halt in the early evening hours in the two remaining Serb villages of Bresje and Ugljare near Kosovo Polje after an unprecedented tragedy In the refugee settlement of Bergen in Ugljare left everyone dumb with pain.


A fire that broke out in the refugee settlement, built with donations from the Norwegian government, on the second floor of the building which was the home of the six members of the Stijovic family, two small children, Andjela (5) and Branko (2), burned to death.


A third child, seven year-old Aleksandar, managed to jump from the second floor through the window and despite burns survived the tragedy. The mother of the children, Vesna (34), who is presently in the department of surgery of the Gracanica Clinical Medical Center, is out of life threatening danger. What is certain is that the catastrophe resulted from indolence and carelessness.


"Apparently Vesna, the mother, became sleepy after Christmas lunch. She left the heater on and the children playing in the room. Little Andjela, according to Aleksandar, who survived, pushed a newspaper through the grids of the heater, and when it caught fire out of fear she threw it on a pile of folded laundry in the room. Everything went up in flames in an instant. When she smelled the smoke and fire, Vesna flew out to find her husband, who was in front of the building with their five year-old daughter, Marija. Marko ran toward the apartment but it was already too late," the neighbors said.


When the firefighters from Kosovo Polje put out the fire, they found a horrendous sight. The little boy and girl were completely carbonized as they clung to each other.


The Stijovic family fled from Djurakovac in Metohija eight years ago, and all of Marko and Vesna's children had been born there. Nine years ago they returned from Slovenia, where they had been working, to their native village which they were subsequently forced to flee.


"We've survived many tragedies, murders and torchings, especially on March 17, 2004. However, this is the worst tragedy anyone can remember. All of Ugljare, nearby Bresje and all the Serbs in the Kosovo lowlands are in complete shock," Miro Velickovic said. Velickovic lost all his property during the March pogrom but he emphasizes that this new tragedy is far more difficult for him to bear.


Svetislav Jovanovic, former director of the Vuk Karadzic Elementary School in Pristina, who now lives in Ugljare, said with pain:


"Life was certainly not kind to this unfortunate family. In 1991 Marko barely got out of Slovenia alive. Then, he barely managed to flee as far as Kosovo Polje during the expulsions eight years ago. For years he and his family lived in a classroom of the elementary school until they got this apartment. No sooner did they have a roof over their heads and begin to recover their spirits when this unprecedented tragedy occurred."


In Ugljare, Bresje and other Kosovo villages there was little Christmas festivity to be found on Monday. Instead of celebratory ringing, the bells of the church in Bresje tolled mournfully in wake of the great tragedy.




Wrenched with pain and staying with the neighbors, Marko had no idea of what became of his wife Vesna until Monday afternoon. After the shock she experienced she was taken by ambulance to the Clinical Medical Center in Gracanica.


"The burns on her hands have been treated but she will require further psychiatric treatment because she remains in a state of semi-shock," explained Professor Dr. Stojan Sekulic, Director of the Pristina Clinical Medical Center displaced in Gracanica.