Revenge is theirs

Kosovar Albanians step up Serbian killings as U.N. peacekeepers look on.

Published July 27, 1999 7:00PM (EDT)

The latest series of Albanian revenge killings has inflamed Serbian popular resentment against U.N. peacekeepers in Kosovo. They also cast doubt on the notion that Serbs and Albanians can live together as neighbors in the province.

Serbs now widely believe that the peacekeeping forces -- known by their acronym as KFOR troops -- are aiding the reverse "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo.

"We can no longer believe in the good intention of British soldiers," said Vera Janicijevic, who lost her son and husband when 14 Serbs were slain last Friday evening in the village of Staro Gracko in Kosovo.

Stevo Lalic, who witnessed the killings, said the Serbs were killed with automatic weapons in a wheat field, then run over with tractors.

Serbian Bishop Artemije and other Serbian leaders met with the head of the U.N. mission, Bernard Kushner, to demand that more be done to protect Serbs.

"We placed our hope in you, but we can no longer do that and therefore do not ask for our cooperation until the evil which is being committed against Serbs comes to an end," Artemije told Kushner.

At an anti-Milosevic rally Saturday, Serbia's most popular opposition leader, Vuk Draskovic, said that Serbs who chose to stay in Kosovo with the intention of living with Albanians have been disappointed by KFOR and the behavior of some Albanians.

"We believed that accepting an international peacekeeping force from the world's leading countries, operating under a Security Council resolution, would protect the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia and the human rights of all citizens in Kosovo. But Western countries are supporting separatists and have erased the border with Albania."

Draskovic said 100,000 Serbs have been driven out of Kosovo under the aegis of Western countries and the U.N. flag.

Serbs have been increasingly the victims of revenge killings and brutal attacks. Every day across Kosovo, dark pillars of smoke point to Serbian homes going up in flames.

Serb leaders in Kosovo canceled a meeting with Albanian leaders after Friday's attack.

Hashim Tachi, the leader of the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, denied that the KLA had anything to do with Friday's murders. The attacks appear to be the result of widespread rage over the murder of thousands of Albanians and the torching of tens of thousands of Albanian homes during the Yugolsav offensive in Kosovo.

Just as Serbs burned Albanian villages to dissuade them from returning, Albanians are beginning to do the same.

On Saturday in Kosovo, the deserted Serbian village of Belo Polje, located less than two miles outside of Pec, was quietly burning six weeks after the Yugoslav army pulled out of the region.

In the village of Decani, a 14-year-old boy proudly watched a Serbian home burn under a dull afternoon sun. A woman dressed in fatigues wearing a KLA belt approached him, kissed him on the cheek and said, "Now you've earned your manhood."

Even in Prizren, which was left intact by Serbian forces, Serbian homes can regularly be seen burning at night on a hill overlooking this exotic city.

Last Thursday, the 500-year-old home of Serbian doctor Ljubisa Lukic was the latest architectural victim of Albanian rage. Every vacant Serbian home was looted, many were burned.

A handful of mostly older Serbs are determined to stay, no matter how great the risk.

"I was born in this city, I will die here. Of course we're scared, but I hope they will leave us alone because we haven't done anything," said 68-year-old Prizren native Vera Jeftic, who lives with her retired husband and another family member.

"We can't even go into the city to buy food. It's a shame because we really did get on well with Albanians. I speak their language well, but also feel this land is just as Serbian as it is Albanian," said Jeftic.

German soldiers guard the Serbian neighborhood 24 hours a day, only 50 meters from the Jeftic home. But the city's small and seemingly endless meandering alleyways and passages are perfect cover for would-be arsonists and looters.

Just down the street, 190 mostly older Serbs live like prisoners in Prizren's theological seminary. The scene is beyond depressing. Dozens of older Serbs fill a small courtyard and stare into nowhere. The silence is crushing, interrupted only by the mad ravings of a woman screaming at a journalist.

Just outside the seminary walls, three German soldiers protect Prizren's last Serbs from thousands of angry Albanians in the city center.

Many of the elderly display scars, bruises and broken bones from being beaten by vengeful Albanians.

"We just want a military escort out of here," said Father Nikola, an Orthodox priest. "This is not life anymore. We've been waiting for weeks for our situation to be resolved. Nearly 150 of us have family in Serbia where we can go live peacefully."

Cveta Vasiljevic, a frail, 75-year-old woman, showed a track of stitches in her head from a beating received a week ago at the hands of angry Albanians in a village near Prizren. There are many like Vasiljevic: an 80 year-old woman with a broken arm, another septuagenarian removes his shirt to show off the bruises on his back from a fierce beating just a few days ago.

"They keep arriving," said Nikola. "People who thought, 'Look, I'm innocent. I haven't done anything so I'll stay.' Then they show up here beaten nearly to death."

For Albanians, Prizren has never been better. The city has an air of liberation; the streets are bustling, the cafes filled with festive chatter.

"We never used to be able to gather at night, we were always scared of Serb police. Now the few Serbs who are left know how we felt for years," said Amil, the owner of a cafe.

By Alex Todorovic

Alex Todorovic is a Belgrade writer.

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