Serbs sell homes to Albanians at border

MERDARE, Jun 20, 2000 -- (AFP) Serbian former inhabitants of Kosovo are selling their houses to Albanians in cross-border transactions supervised by British soldiers.

Here, Serbian Stojan exchanges a warm handshake with Albanian Gaz after selling his Pristina apartment, drawing a line under his Kosovo existence.

Gaz's father, a notary in Pristina, takes 54,000 German marks out of his pocket and hands it to Stojan, who hopes it will suffice to buy an apartment in Nis, after he abandoned his Kosovo home following the international takeover of the province by KFOR troops.

British soldiers at the frontier post watched the transaction, one of many performed here three times a week at a roadblock placed on the border between Serbia and Kosovo, marked by a bridge.

At each side of the border, Serbs and Albanians park their cars, walking the few yards (meters) to the roadblock where business starts, a year after the end of the war a year ago.

Gaz was accompanied by his father and met up with Stojan, "a fried of the family," a telecommunications engineer. The pair had not met for more than a year since Stojan fled Kosovo along with tens of thousands of other Serbs.

"He left for Belgrade in August to reunite with his son. He asked us to live in his apartment for fear it would be looted and he trusted us," said Gaz, a 23-year-old psychology student and an interpreter for the Red Cross.

"I have come to buy this apartment (64 square meters) because Stojan is not thinking of returning soon to Pristina," Gaz said, speaking in the warm spring sunshine.

Sitting on a bench on the roadside between Pristina and Belgrade, the three men negotiated over the house deeds.

Before the war, the Serbs were not allowed by law to sell their homes to Albanians, as the Belgrade government tried to ensure that Serbs remained in Kosovo. At present, Serbs are forced to sell their homes, provided they have not been burned or squatted.

"It's very amicable between Serbs and Albanians, never a voice raised," said a British soldier, who marks down the amount of each house sale as a young Serb woman heads off in the direction of Belgrade.

Not far away, an American working for the United Nations in Pristina pays his rent to his landlady, a Serb who fled to Belgrade at the end of the war.

After concluding the sale, Gaz, his father and Stojan embrace each other. The Serb cannot hold back his tears. "Now that he has sold his home, he has burned his bridges with Kosovo," said Gaz, the new householder.

Original article