Albanians lost in Neutral zoneJanuary 29, 2000
DOBRASIN, Yugoslavia (AP) -- This village of 1,000 ethnic Albanians lies just inside Serbia, overlooking the boundary with Kosovo. NATO-led peacekeepers aren't allowed to come here. Serb police aren't supposed to, either.
But they do.
Three days ago, villagers say, a dozen of them came over the hillside beyond the schoolhouse. Shots rang out and the Serbs raced away. Hours later, villagers found the bodies of Isaj Saqipi and his brother, Shaip, beneath their tractor, each shot through the head.
Under an agreement signed by NATO and Serb generals last June, the three-mile swath of land ringing Kosovo's boundary just inside Serbia is supposed to be off limits to both Serb police and peacekeepers who patrol the province. But Dobrasin residents say Serb police are ignoring the agreement, leaving them unprotected in a no man's land.
"We don't have any defense or anything," said Adem Saqipi, 37. "They (NATO forces) have to do something to protect us, or we have to abandon the village."
The situation in the Dobrasin region today -- where about 70 percent of the 100,000 people are ethnic Albanians -- echoes the ongoing conflict that in March provoked NATO to intervene in Kosovo with a massive air campaign. Moved by the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees, NATO bombarded Serbia for 78 days to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end his crackdown on ethnic Albanian militants.
Naime Saqipi remembers the pictures on TV from Kosovo last year, the accounts from villagers who described how Serb police stormed villages. The bloody bodies, shot and disfigured were so fearful, she said, they made her cry.
This time the victim was her husband, killed in the raid three days ago. One of his eyes had been gouged out; his hands cut into strips.
"I never thought I would see my own husband like that," she sobbed, as her 7-year-old daughter clung to her neck.
The family's father brought the corpses to Kosovo's main morgue in Pristina, fearful the Serbian authorities would not bother to return them, even if they conducted an autopsy.
U.N. police won't conduct an investigation, either, because they have no jurisdiction over the neutral zone and no border agreement with Serbian authorities, U.N. police spokesman Bruce Lloy said.
It is not the first time the people of Dobrasin have had troubles with Serbia's police, who send patrols of blue armored vehicles over the hillside near the schoolhouse. The police even harass the Albanians when they make the simplest of trips -- such as a shopping excursion a few miles up the road to the market town of Bujanovac, the villagers said.
"They have even taken people from Dobrasin off the bus and thrown them in the river and left them there for hours in freezing temperatures," said Adem Saqipi, a cousin of the victims.
State-run Serbian media, for its part, has reported several explosions and armed attacks in the border area around Dobrasin, located 170 miles southeast of Belgrade. They attributed the attacks to "ethnic Albanian bandits and terrorists."
Stojan Arsic, the Serb mayor of Bujanovac, said the incidents are the work of "Albanian terrorists (who) cross over and attempt to provoke incidents here."
NATO-led peacekeepers say they know about the attacks, but won't do anything about them.
"Our mandate ends at the boundary -- beyond which Belgrade must bear the responsibility for the security of its citizens," said British Warrant Officer Mark Cox, a spokesman for the peacekeepers in Pristina. "We hope that they are actively ensuring the security that their citizens deserve, also regardless of their ethnicity."
The sentiments don't comfort people in Dobrasin, who remain trapped by lines on the map. Panicked people fearing for their safety already have fled to Kosovo or Bujanovac, to stay with family there.
"We don't know what to do," said a young man from Dobrasin, who gave his name only as Isa, for fear of retaliation. "We can't get anything from this side (Serbia) and we can't get anything from the other (Kosovo)."
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