Kosovo Roma face bleak New Year

PLEMENTINA, Yugoslavia, Jan 1, 2000 -- (AFP) Accused by embittered Kosovo Albanians of collaboration with the Serb enemy last spring, the Rom gypsies of Kosovo have little to celebrate as the new millennium dawns.

They are outcasts, their houses burned down, living in fear, isolation, cold and malnutrition, under canvas and in wooden huts on the fringes of a vengeful society.

Gypsies at a camp at Zitkovac are observing three days of mourning for three of their comrades who died in the space a month from cold, malnutrition and poor health conditions.

"We have no reason to celebrate New Year," said one of this makeshift community of 277 people under tents.

After the retreat of the Yugoslav military their houses were burned down by Kosovo Albanians who accused them of having served with the Serbian paramilitary militias in attacks against ethnic Albanians during the war.

Some 3,000 were temporarily housed last June in a school at Kosovo Polje. Come the autumn they were put in tents.

"It's sad, it's the first time we're having to pass New year homeless," said Nasser Adici, head of a community of some 850 gypsies in Plementina

His group have just been re-housed in wooden huts beside a power station, on a bleak plain criss-crossed with high-tension electric pylons and cables, and swept by snow.

"There isn't enough room, families are living huddled together, but we were under pressure because of winter," said Marco Donati of the Italian Solidarity Consortium, an relief aid group helping gypsies with the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

"There isn't any space for social activities or any storage room. But we did get some containers from Luxembourg," he said. "In a few days we'll put up a school."

The wooden huts are heated by wood and coal stoves. "We have the money to buy the coal," Nasser said. "But we can't get any Albanians to bring it here."

Outside, in the snow and mud, an upturned container does service as a shop, distributing flour and bags of oranges.

At five o'clock, Ramadan fasting over, Nasser and his family sit down to an evening meal of cheese and sausage by candlelight. There is only three hours of electricity available a day despite the nearby power station. And no running water or latrines.

"We hope to return to our houses in the spring, but there must be safe conditions," Nasser said.

What about the accusations of collaboration with the Serbs? "Yes, some gypsies worked with the Serbian army," he admitted. "But not all. But it makes no difference to the Albanians who did and who didn't."

[URL may be different next day if article is archived]