Mch 30, 2000Kosovo rebuilds among ruins of the war that never ends
PRISHTINA - In the muddy streets of Pustasel, the villagers have little to celebrate as NATO marks the first anniversary of the start of its war in Kosovo. People are rebuilding, but it is hard to contemplate the aftermath of the campaign that gave ethnic Albanians freedom from Serbian rule without thinking back to the horror of the conflict.
A year ago, as the warplanes of the world's most powerful military alliance streaked overhead, Serbian forces rounded up 106 men in a field at Pustasel and murdered them. The killers put out some of their eyes and cut off their ears. The youngest was a boy of 14 and the oldest was nearly 90. One of their victims was Fadil Krasniqi, a father of eight.
His wife, Nakije, was pregnant with their ninth child when he died. Her gaunt face looks out of the doorway of their shattered home in utter despair. "My mother has not spoken much since that day," said Fatmire, her eldest daughter.
Nakije, 42, who is having to cope with five daughters and four sons on her own, is still stricken with grief and scarcely comes out of her house. She has named her youngest, born six months ago, Fadil in memory of her murdered husband.
Next door, in a house with a broken roof, Shelqi Krasniqi is struggling to bring up three boys and seven girls. Her husband was also killed. "We want to rebuild our lives, but how can we?" she said. The echoes and images of the massacre replay constantly in her head.
Many of the men are buried in the centre of the village, an enduring reminder of the tragedy. Some were found on a rubbish dump miles away. But others are still missing and the villagers plead tearfully to be told what has happened to their menfolk. Until they know the truth, there is a vain hope the men might be in Serbia, where hundreds of Albanians are still held in jail.
Kosovo is the focus of one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts per capita in recent history. The UN has brought in 60,000 home-repair kits, which have given shelter to an estimated 500,000 people.
The World Food Programme fed the entire population for a while and is still helping 900,000, about half of it. Some 60,000 stoves have been provided and 250,000 items of children's clothing.
But some vulnerable families seem to have fallen through the aid net, receiving no more than a few German marks a month and some flour and oil. "This is no life. This is like death," said one woman. "But we have to carry on for the children."
Many of the houses in Pustasel were burnt by the Serbs or badly damaged. Serving ice cream and soft drinks in the only shop, Verhan Krasniqi, 59, one of 13 survivors of the massacre, said the village had yet to come to terms with its grief.
"Forty of my friends are buried there," he said, gesturing towards their graves. "It is very hard for me to go outside to see them every day."
He nevertheless thought the sacrifice had been worthwhile, and pointed to children at a playground set up in the field where his friends were slaughtered as a sign of life renewed.
If the peace has been hard for the widows of Pustasel, it has been better for Imer Bakar. I last saw him a year ago, a gaunt figure hiding in the hills of northern Kosovo from the Serbs, who had driven him out of his village, Studenica, set it on fire and killed 35 people, including eight women they stuffed down a well.
Bakar has rebuilt his house and has recovered one of his three cows. He said that, without NATO, he could never have expected to return. At Glina, where 101 men are still missing after a Serbian round-up, 22-year old Hissene Krasniqi recognises that he is one of the luckiest to be alive. A year ago he was lined up and shot with 15 others. Four bullets hit him in the back, arms and legs. But when the executioners had left, he crawled out from the pile of corpses. He now wants to be a footballer.
International aid workers marvel at the resilience and enterprise of people who, a year ago, were refugees fleeing over the mountains to escape the forces of Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president. But as the struggle to rebuild lives goes on, another conflict has erupted, one that NATO and the UN do not have the means or stomach to fight. To do so would mean confronting members of the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
While Kosovo has no judicial system worthy of the name and virtually no police, the province has become a centre of criminality often linked to former members of the rebel group. There are rarely any witnesses, even to attacks in public.
Trying to administer the still-traumatised and upended territory has proved harder and more complex than fighting the war a year ago. "The international community is bound to fail in Kosovo if it is not prepared to invest in the peace," a western diplomat said.
In Pustasel they say the future cannot be worse than the past. But diplomats warn that Kosovo may be sliding towards warlordism.
(Excerpts from Sunday Times).