Fear and Loathing mark Kosovo ethnic divide

By Deborah Kyvrikosaios

March 20, 2000

(AFP) - Luleta's Serb neighbours were the only ones she had ever known. They had lived next door all of her life.

When NATO planes began their bombing campaign over Kosovo last March they were afraid that their apartment at the front of the building would be a target so the 25-year-old Kosovo Albanian invited them into her living room to shelter from the nightly air raids.

After the bombing over Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's repression of ethnic Albanians was suspended on June 10 Serb, tanks and soldiers fled north into Serbia to be replaced in Kosovo by thousands of NATO troops.

It was another time of fear for Luleta's neighbours - now worried that they would be targets of revenge attacks by Albanians.

Luleta, who asked that her real name not be used, and her Albanian neighbours kept their doors open to convince the roving gangs of their compatriots seeking revenge that there were no Serbs in the building.

But the Serbs were there, laying lay low in their apartment as Luleta's family was harassed and accused of supporting them.

In the end, it was too much for the Serb family - they packed up and fled. Luleta does not know where they went or what happened to them. Now she has Albanian neighbours, strangers from somewhere in the Kosovo countryside.

"These people are like aliens to me, strange faces from strange places," she said.


Since the end of the war, tales of dislocation and pain like Luleta's have multiplied across the war-torn Yugoslav province as thousands of Albanians and Serbs have been displaced.

Kosovo Serbs have massed in the northern part of Mitrovica for protection, causing the Albanians living there to flee to the south of the city for fear of attacks.

Clashes have broken out between the two ethnic groups, while NATO and the United Nations have struggled to create a multi-ethnic society and bring both sides back to their homes.

There has been precious little success, partly, according to humanitarian aid workers, because Western plans are too ambitious and it is too soon for Serbs and Albanians to be neighbours again.

Postcards tell the tale in Mitrovica's Serb neighbourhood, where they are sold to "tourists" - the foreign journalists trudging between the Serbian and Albanian sectors of the city.

They show a uniformed Serb wielding a knife on one side and a uniformed Albanian brandishing one on the other. A sweating NATO soldier stands in the middle trying to keep them apart.

"Greetings from Mitrovica," it reads.


Signs of Kosovo's continuing ethnic divisions are everywhere.

Thousands take part in a peaceful demonstration in the Serb sector of Mitrovica. One Serb holds a sign reading: "Give us our freedom".

Before the NATO intervention, Albanians carried placards with similar sentiments.

Not far away a NATO border guard operates a lonely checkpoint on the Kosovo-Serbia territorial border, watching the traffic and checking for guns.

He said the traffic includes funeral processions - Serbs going to bury their dead in a Serb cemetery in Kosovo.

A bizarre real estate market also exists at the checkpoint, he said. Albanians and Serbs negotiate property sales as the two ethnic groups move from one place to another.


But it is the infamous bridge at Mitrovica, dividing the two sections of the city, that remains the symbol of Kosovo's new pain.

One Albanian local from the south side seems oblivious. He gets his regular exercise by swimming in the Ibar river that runs under that bridge, rain or shine. It is a surreal vision in a city of conflict.

Albanian children gather at the bridge to watch the NATO soldiers who keep the two ethnic groups apart.

A soldier tells them gruffly to step back, - troops like to keep people at a distance from the centre of the bridge to avoid trouble.

They don't go back far enough to satisfy him, so he pulls out a can of paint and sprays a line across the road, admonishing them not to cross it. Yet another division in a trouble spot that is full of them.

Original article